“A goal without a plan is just a wish.”
When you go to work, do you plan your journey around rush hour? How about when you get there? Do you have a plan of what you need to get done that day? What about food? Do you plan what you’re going to cook for tea in the evening?
Most of us do. However, if for any reason you don’t plan that journey to work in advance, if you don’t know what you need to get done during the day or if you don’t plan what to cook for tea, chances are things will go belly up. It’s true! Without planning in advance for things, you’ll hit the rush hour traffic in the morning which causes you to be 15 minutes late for work. You’ll get to work spending the first half hour working out what actually needs to be done that day, and you’ll get home only to realise you haven’t actually got any chicken in the fridge for your fajitas. Nightmare.
BUT, we are all well aware that planning and getting yourself organised is the key factor to having a stress free life, at least most of the time. Yet some of us really struggle when it comes to writing. To be brutally honest, planning is absolutely essential when writing your own material, and, as always, that’s something I learnt the hard way.
When you get that initial story idea, you get over excited. I definitely did, and I pretty much just jumped into writing the first chapter with both feet. I didn’t think about the implications later on, the writer’s block or what would happen when my current bucket of ideas would run dry. Well, it did, and I had to face the consequences that silly old me had brought on herself. I wrote continuously, with no plan of where it would take me for a good while before I realised that actually, I could really do with noting down some ideas and chapter plans.
What should I plan?
Honestly? Everything major. Everything from the way your characters act in a situation to what will happen in the next 3 chapters. I don’t mean plan every tiny detail, (like how many freckles are on Derek’s nose or how often Mary wears a blue skirt) but the general gist of what will go on throughout each chapter is enough. This will give you a good guide of what information you need to get into each one.
When should I plan?
You should definitely think to plan before you even start typing away at your novel. You may feel like you have hundreds of ideas, and so many in fact that you would just be able to write and write and write without losing inspiration. Actually, being able to plan what you write straight from the off will make things a hell of a lot more organised in your head and you’ll not get to a point where you think something doesn’t make sense. You’ll always have your plan to fall back on, a reminder of what needs to be said and when.
When I reached a point where I had no more ideas, my writing literally came to a standstill and I didn’t touch the document for a good 10 months. Any writer will know that this is bad and that leaving a project for this long means you’re less likely to ever revisit it again in future.
What happens if I get to this point?
Go to a shop and buy a notepad. Seriously. If, like me, you started your novel many moons ago, and now you’re left feeling a little lost after having used all your ideas in one go, this is where you really need to just stop everything and take a step back.
After this happened, I first wrote down the main points of every chapter I’d written so far. What happens in each? Which characters do I introduce? It can really give you a feel of what’s already been said and saves you repeating yourself later down the line. It’s also great for getting yourself back up to speed with what’s going on after such a long break.
When you’re happy with where you’re at, and you’ve made friends with your characters again, it’s time to start planning ahead. As long as you keep ahead with your planning, I don’t really feel that you have to plan 30 chapters in advance. Who knows what could happen in that time! You may even generate new ideas when writing a certain scene, so planning a little too far could be a bad thing. Just find a balance and make sure you have time to keep updating your plan when you write that bit more. It’ll start to become second nature to you, that when you write a few chapters, you need to then plan for more chapters!
The way your story grows and how your characters come to life can be totally unexpected. You should always be in a position where you can ‘leave space’ for these unexpected things to happen and progress. For example, the chapter you’re currently working on could be going fine, but you might then think of a loophole which throws all your other plans out of the window. When this happens, it is totally okay to rethink your original plan, which is why the idea of a plan in the first place is purely to give you a base for your chapter and not to give every teeny tiny detail away. Don’t think too much!
The most important thing about writing in general is to have fun with it. There’s no right or wrong way to plan, as long as you do plan. Find a technique that works for you, include paragraphs or bullet points if you prefer. All you need to remember is that getting organised with your writing will make things so much easier, and you’ll be less prone to hit that brick wall of sadness that is writer’s block.
How do you find planning your story? Is there any particular technique that you use? 🙂