When I cook by the seat of my pants the basic assumption is worst case scenario is this: the meal is awful, in which case I call Dominoes and no one starves. The risks are the ingredients, the time I spend cooking and the time I spend cleaning up. When I write that way, the risks are essentially the same if you allow that the ingredients are my creative juices. The key difference involves the question of time. It takes me thirty-minutes to an hour to perfect or ruin a meal. Clean-up is twenty minutes depending on the pans I use. It takes me a year (or more) to cook a novel. And the clean-up? Well, I'm learning the hard way that it can take years to recover from a book that doesn't sell, or in keeping with the analogy: from writing a book that no one wants to eat.When I cook and stick with the recipe, two things happen. For one, the process is streamlined because I have all the ingredients I need in the proper quantities. The meal gets on the table faster and no one goes hungry. The other thing that happens is the finished product is reliably good, sometimes amazing. But rarely awful. And nothing is more heartbreaking in a kitchen than cleaning up a mess from a meal that no one ate. On the other hand the rewards of seat-of-the-pants cooking are potentially profound. You never get the same meal twice, and no one can say, "This was better the last time you made it."
George R.R. Martin employs a different analogy, using architects and gardeners. One is meticulous with every stage and step defined, the other favors the randomness and discovery of nature. Since I am neither an architect nor a gardener, but I do like to cook and eat--I'll call this my recipe for (mis)adventure. Without going into the gory details, I find myself in the kitchen cleaning up the writing mess of a less than satisfactory meal. So this time around I am following the recipe. I have outlined the heck out of my next book. Every plot point is mapped, every beat of tension in acts I, II and III is identified, every character arc is defined. I know I'm going to miss the delicious surprises that come with writing by the seat of my pants, but I'm hoping that the end product will be just as good, maybe even better.
So the table is set. I'm at the stove, apron on and spatula in hand. The garlic is starting to brown.Dinner will be served in, oh, six months.