Why Planning is Overrated

I ain’t gonna front. I had a wicked time just recently, shooting an aftermovie for Polar Music; a Manchester-based music production and events label who specialise in putting together house music/EDM nights around the north west of England.

I was asked to do some filming at the launch party for one of their events at Texture night club, a gig I was excited to be involved in but one that presented challenges; the biggest being – since I was filming in a club – that I had no control over the lighting, which, with how dark it was, made it tricky to consistently get the image quality I was after on my DSLR (planning to invest in some new toys to combat this very issue).

In the end – well, part way through the shoot actually – I decided to just roll with it, to make the dim, grimier look part of the aesthetic and incorporate it into the feel of the finished piece, an approach I carried forward into the edit.

Although it wasn’t what I originally had in mind before filming, I definitely feel this approach helped to capture the night’s atmosphere in a far better way than I’d planned to (see below).


Thing is, I guess it got me thinking about how often this kinda thing happens. How often our best laid plans don’t necessarily lead to the best outcomes, at least when it comes to creativity.

Which reminded me of this…

“I never went to college. I don’t believe in college for writers. I think it’s very dangerous. I think too many professors are too opinionated, and too snobbish, and too intellectual. And the intellect is a great danger to creativity… a terrible danger because you begin to rationalise and make up reasons for things instead of staying with your own basic truth. Who you are, what you are, what you want to be. I’ve had a sign over my typewriter for years now which reads ‘don’t think’. You must never think at the typewriter. You must feel…”

They’re the words of the late great Ray Bradbury, one of the most prolific and decorated writers of the 20th Century, speaking to James Day during an interview for Cuny Television in 1974 (below).

It’s a great interview for any writer – in fact any creative person, actually any person at all – to listen to. Bradbury talks about his work, his career, his life, his sensibilities, all with the same lyrical panache and swagger that gave his writing its special verve.

But the thing that really grabbed my attention as I listened was the resemblance between the ideas he shared on writing and creativity, and those I’d heard from someone else. Someone, in fact, who could not be more different…

“In a lot of [my play] I’m doing something impulsive,” Barry Sanders once said, “I had to [learn to] turn off the brain in certain ways and just react.

Barry Sanders, running back of the Detroit Lions from 1989 to 1998, a first ballot Hall-of-Famer, regarded by many commentators as the greatest in the history of the NFL to play his position.

And so here is a sportsman, in one of the most violent and physical contact sports on the planet, describing his style of play in not dissimilar terms to those used by Bradbury to describe the craft of writing.

Where Sanders speaks of needing to ‘turn off the brain’, Bradbury’s law is ‘don’t think’. Both, it seems, seeking to push away reason and rationale and, as Bradbury says later in the same interview, ‘surprise’ themselves.

Which leads me on to another quote, this time from a musician — New Orleans native and jazz composer, Wynton Marsalis, speaking, interestingly, about the aforementioned Barry Sanders, and drawing parallels between the running back’s approach to his sport and what is, in Marsalis’ view, the basic impetus and raison d’etre of all jazz music.

“In the arts, greatness is that you are able to develop your skills [to the point that you] raise our — humanity’s — level of consciousness, our horizon of aspiration. [So that] we say: “Wow, I didn’t know that could be done… it’s metaphysical, and that’s when you are the thing, and when you become that thing you don’t have to think. Because the figuring out of things is transcended the ‘I am doing this’ to just what we call “the isness” — i.e. you are here in this moment and you are the living embodiment of that thing in action. When you [reach that level, then when you] don’t think you are on a higher level than when you think, because the thought takes you away from the thing [you are doing].”

Yeah, I know, a bit on the heady side, but I guess what these sentiments each have in common is the idea that eventually, once your skills have developed to a certain point, you have to let go. Stop thinking. Trust impulse, cede to instinct. Roll with it.

Intuition over intellect. Feeling over thought. Faith over reason. Like both Picasso and Jesus (now there’s a juxtaposition you don’t see every day) famously said — the trick is to learn to be like a child.

“All children are born artists, the problem is to remain an artist as we grow up.” — Pablo Picasso

In his (excellent) commencement speech to the 2012 graduating class of the University of the Arts, Philadelphia, Neil Gaiman put it like this…

“The one thing you have that nobody else has, is you — your voice, your mind, your story, your vision. So write and draw and build and play and dance and live as only you can. The moment that you feel that just possibly you’re walking down the street naked, exposing too much of your heart and your mind and what exists on the inside and showing too much of yourself, that’s the moment you may be starting to get it right. The things I’ve done that worked the best were the things I was least certain about… looking back on them people explain why they were inevitable successes but when I was doing them I had no idea what I was doing. I still don’t.”

So, my question… what about you?

Have you learned to let go yet? To follow Bradbury’s (and Bruce Lee’s) dictum of don’t think, feel? To step beyond your planning and rationale and surprise yourself, creatively or otherwise?

And if so, what was it like? Vulnerable? Scary? Exhilarating?

Feel free to share your experiences below. Would love to hear them. And, who knows, maybe I’ll learn to take even more risks through what you share. After all, like Gaiman says later on in his speech.

“Where’s the fun in [doing] something you know is going to work?”

6 thoughts on “Why Planning is Overrated”

  1. Good post!
    For me, the Feel/Go state alone isn’t enough … it needs to be preceded by some planning. Or else I can write myself into a corner. Even Bradbury says you need to be thinking while away from the typewriter.

    But good advice for the actually-sitting-down-and-writing part. Blog followed.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thanks! And so true. In fact I think it’s this pre-Feel/Go state that’s beginning to fascinate me most. How do people get to that headspace where not thinking is potentially more productive? And, as importantly, how do they stay in that free-flow zone? If that’s even possible.

      I’ll admit they’re questions with selfish motives as I feel like I’m still trying to figure out how to approach being productive/creative in the way that will work best for me. I like that idea of a yin and yang between planning and not planning though. Has it always been how you write or did the practice evolve over time?


  2. “The one thing you have that nobody else has, is you — your voice, your mind, your story, your vision. Well that about sums it up for me. Reading what others think can be scary unless you read or listen through humbleness. I like being stretched which is what your post did for me. First let me say, very cool you video. My 8 1/2 year old grand daughter was standing by my computer as I listened to the music. We both agreed it was very catchy and made us want to dance. She thought it was cool how everyone was keeping time to the music. Good job brother. Second, I really don’t know these people you quoted but liked their ideas. I wish I could have had the guts, wisdom, faith, to do some of the things I dreamed of doing early in my life. My husband and I tried to instill in our children to learn their gifts and talents and go for it. I am not into you can do anything you want, not always true. Wanting to do something will not make it happen. I do believe in planning, being organized not to a fault but enough that you can go to plan b when plan a fails. I love to write when my mind just keeps going and going with thoughts after thought until I finally have something to edit. I have grown in the free falling kind of writing which is scary. I have grown in the feeling I have to be blogging the way others do, that is freeing. Those two elements have helped me enjoy writing. Always glad when I stop by your site, this one has given me food for thought. Thanks.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thanks! And I LOVE that you and your grand-daughter enjoyed the video!

      You know, that ‘free-falling’ kind of writing you mentioned is something I’m trying to get back to at the moment. I find that one of the biggest challenges for me is trying to return to a rhythm between that free, creative headspace of being able to just let go and write, and the necessarily more restrictive and scrutinising headspace of editing what you’ve written. Sometimes I can get stuck in the editor’s chair and struggle to find my way back to the writer’s one.

      The main ways I’ve found to break myself out of it is through either reading, travelling, or creating through an alternative medium (like photography, or filmmaking, or drawing etc.). But there are times even they don’t work. It’s kinda weird, you’d think the more writing I did the easier it would get, but to me, sometimes, it seems to get harder. But then maybe that’s a good sign. Like one very talented writer once said: ‘easy reading is damn hard writing.’

      But what about you? How do you manage to stay or get into that free-falling headspace? I’m eager for all the help I can get.


  3. I am sure nothing I could say could help you since you are light years beyond my writing skills. I honestly try not to write unless I am moved. Oh, I know some think being moved is easy but it’s not. Life gets in the way and the creativity shuts down. Thank God I do not have to meet a deadline as you do. I do try not to march to another beat, try to be myself. I don’t know about you but I can tell by the first line of a blog whether I want to invest my time reading. It has to be something I am interested in, like Jesus, different cultures, heart felt lines that draw me into the heart of that person. If it’s too heady, and not enough heart I probably won’t continue to read. Soooo I try to write what I like to read if that makes sense. And I agree with your friend, easy reading is damn hard writing. Once I am in that free falling writing I am a bear if someone interrupts the flow. We write updates about our ministry to all our supporters and usually I start it and then my husband finishes it. I am a personal writer, bearing what ever it takes to make it real. My husband thinks about how it sounds to others, does it offend, is it too personal. For years it bothered me so much that he would cut all the personal out and only give the facts. I have learned to be content with it now. Which is why I like to write on my blog…it’s me, warts and all. I guess what I am saying is, I try to write my blog without little limitation. In fact brother that is the reason I like what you reply to my comments. Your mind is broader and if I have ever offended you, you are darn good at hiding it. It is interesting you mentioned rhythm, because I am speaking to a group of missionary women in SEpt on the rhythm of our lives. How one little set back can throw off our rhythm and how hard it is sometimes to get it back. Aging has taught me I can never get the rhythm back I had when I was younger. So I have to find a new rhythm and be content in it. Being content with where I am is the key for me even in when, how much and what I write. Thanks for the comments, as usual you set off a train of thoughts. Thats a great gift to have by the way.


    1. I just love this comment. I’ve been reflecting on it quite a bit over the last couple days. Thanks so much for sharing it. I’m really interested in your thoughts on rhythm, I have to say. I want to hear more.


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