I spent much of my working life writing software rather than writing words, though I did a lot of that, too.

When I was developing software, working with others who were also writing code, we often talked about ‘scaffolding’. By this we meant writing some initial code which we knew would ultimately be thrown away, but which set us up to be in a position to write the final code. Just as building workers might construct a scaffold which will eventually be dismantled, but which will allow them to complete the actual building.

In a perfect work, with perfect brains, perhaps we could just sit down and type out the final code and have it run with no bugs. Ask any programmer why they can’t do that and they will just laugh. It doesn’t work that way. You have to begin somewhere, try things out, get a feel for where the problems lie, get an idea of the shape of the solution.

I’ve always insisted that software development is a highly creative activity, no different from writing fiction or composing music. I still hold to that.

So it’s clear in my mind that in writing fiction the concept of scaffolding is a very useful one. Perhaps there are writers who can assemble an entire book in their head, or outline it on paper in precise and meticulous detail, and then sit down and type it out, just as the composer Mozart is said to have been able to sit down and write out a perfect piece of music right from his head straight onto paper, with no later erasures.

Alas, we are not all geniuses like Mozart. At least I’m not! We non-geniuses need to start somewhere, almost anywhere at all, to get us going, to get a feel for the shape of what is to come. That might involve writing quite a lot of words, whole scenes or even whole chapters which eventually are discarded. And that’s not a waste! It’s part of the process, learning about your characters, discovering details of your imagined world or society. Getting a feel for the shape of the problem. It’s in that process, I have found, that some of the more interesting plot ideas can emerge.

So go ahead, give yourself permission to build some scaffolding!