There exists a military strategy maxim that is attributed to Prussian Field Marshal Helmuth von Moltke the Elder. In its original verbose form, it is translated as “No plan of operations extends with certainty beyond the first encounter with the enemy’s main strength.”

You may be more familiar with its condensed form: “No plan survives contact with the enemy.” It’s the idea that the battlefield is an ultimately chaotic place, where even the most meticulous plans can go horribly awry due to factors beyond control. In fact the meticulous plans are the most vulnerable to failure, depending on how unwilling those in charge are to abandon them when they don’t work. Moltke’s other, less famous quote states, “Strategy is a system of expedients”, which is more or less saying that it alters based on the conditions, opportunities, and limitations of the moment.

Creative writing is not the same thing as mass warfare, but it really does seem similar in the respect that it is a rare thing for a script to survive contact with the actual process of production and have the final product emerge unchanged. A great example of this is Jaws, which I now own on blu-ray and have long been familiar with just how much the original creative vision Spielberg sat down and storyboarded had to change because of matters beyond his control, like the mechanical shark breaking down on a constant basis. They had to get creative and use various means to imply its presence instead, and even though it all seemed like a day-to-day disaster and failure at the time, the end result was cinematic history. Had Spielberg been inflexible the movie probably couldn’t have happened at all, much less been an all-time classic.

Even in my personal experience, working with just one other person, the amount of behind-the-scenes compromise that occurs in producing the comic might surprise you. Sometimes we can’t find the reference we need for the angle I envisioned. Sometimes things get accidentally left out, or other things are inserted I didn’t intend to be present. There are occasions when this happens that I’ve insisted on correction, but just as often I’ve taken the long view and looked over my strategy, seeing if it can be adjusted based on the new circumstance, and more than once I’ve actually ended up excited at the opportunities. I would love to say everything happens just as planned because that makes me seem really cool and collected and mastermind-y, but then again I’m pretty sure those kinds of masterminds only really exist in fiction. Mind you I’m not claiming to be a strategic genius, but I’d say the historical guys we hold up as such certainly had their plans, but their real talent was in being able to to take apparent setbacks and turn them into an advantage, finding solutions rather than devolving into paralyzed panic.

Will they be good solutions? Maybe, maybe not, but it seems like the only true defeat is when you just flat out give up and sink into the despair that your story just can’t be accomplished. Many an army commander lived by the idea that so long as their force remained intact, they could lose any number of battles and still maneuver for an eventual victory.

So if you feel like you painted yourself into a corner with your writing despite your planning, well, maybe it’s time to knock out a wall just so you can keep going. Who knows? Maybe your house of ideas will actually turn out better for having that cross-ventilation. Or, true, you could just end up with a jagged, silly-looking hole, but hey, could be worth a try if the alternative is just ditching all the work you’ve done altogether.