I became an author in a haphazard way. I was an illustrator first, but was encouraged to write by my editors. It was a hit or miss process. I never wanted to question it incase I broke whatever it was that I’d got working.
Then came the National Literacy Strategy and people started to ask me awkward questions. “What does your story plan look like?” was the hardest one. I asked other authors what theirs looked like. They smiled and stared back at me with blank expressions. None of us knew what a story plan was or what it was supposed to look like!
Of course we all planned in our own ways. I don’t suppose any of us had been given formal story planning training, so we had developed our own systems. Mine was to keep writing and rewriting until the finished thing looked a bit like my original idea. Initially I poo-poohed the whole idea of planning, but as time went on, I discovered I was being asked to address myself to the issue, particularly for dyslexics and boys who were struggling with their writing.
It began to dawn on me that this group might be like me, more visually-minded, more right-brained. I started to looked into it a bit deeper. It was Anne Marley, the wonderful Head of Hampshire’s Children’s, Youth and Schools Library Service, who put me onto a book about mind-mapping by Tony Buzan. It quite blew me away. I realised I’d been doing something similar anyway, so I adapted Tony Buzans’ ideas for my needs. Then I became a bit right-brainist for a while!
Then, with more reading about discoveries in neuroscience, I realised the secret is to use both sides of the brain. The right is great for seeking patterns and creating plots. The left is best at sequencing the plots and turning it into language.
My story plans now come in two distinct phases, right-brain, radial thinking plans and left-brain, sequenced, linear plans with a beginning, middle and end. My sketchbooks are full of these plans.
Last week I was showing all my plans and plots and character sketches to the year five children at Whitchurch School. I’m currently working on a project with them.
Afterwards, Mrs Stevens, their teacher, said to me, “We do plans, and do you know what we do with them when they are finished?” I waited for the answer. “We put them in the bin!” Loud intake of breath from me! What does this say? It says that plans and plots are rubbish – so why bother in the first place.
This was a real eye-opening moment for both of us. We’ve got some lovely sketchbooks for the children to do their projects in now. I’ll be getting them started tomorrow. It will be fascinating to see how we get on now that all their planning, research and early drafts will all be in one book, a handy reference for the finished pieces of work we will be aiming towards. Oh yes? Did I mention, I’m not expecting them to write masterpieces in forty five minutes?