The Best Laid Plans

The Best Laid Plans

When you’re writing a novel, it’s hard not to seek advice from those that have already managed it. After all, it seems like such a massive undertaking, a few pointers can go a long way.

I came to writing by instinct, like most people. It was my childhood hobby, and I didn’t take it up in any seriousness until I injured my back and found myself  with little more to do than focus on how much my broken joint hurt. I wrote a lot, and it’s how I started to get published, but it all just happened. I sat down, I wrote, and sometimes the things I wrote were okay.


Battle Plan

When you start to take writing seriously, the idea of doing everything by instinct seems too unscientific. Don’t you need a plan? Well, there are probably a million different answers to that question. Here are just a few suggestions of how to plan your work without totally losing that precious feeling of doing things just because they feel right.


Step by Step.

Some people are serious planners–days planned to the minute in the diary, next day’s clothes laid out the night before, that sort of thing. If that’s you, then the idea of writing up to a hundred thousand words just by ‘feeling’ probably fills you with terror. If planning is what you do best, then plan.

Map out your story as a whole, then chapter by chapter. Plan each major point of drama, each main event, each change in point of view. But, and here’s the key, don’t feel like there’s no room for improvement. Change things if you need to. Work with the evolution of the story.


Word Count Only.

If you’re looking to complete something, and are happy to let it evolve as you go, maybe the thing that leaves you struggling is actually doing it. The sitting down and writing a certain number of words each day.

In this case, a spreadsheet might be helpful – or a diary used exclusively for writing purposes. Work out how many words you want to write, over how long. For me, this usually works out at around 1500 a day. Then decide if that’s realistic for you. If it is, get planning.

First, strike out any days that you know you won’t write-–birthdays, long work days, holidays. Don’t set yourself a target that you know you won’t complete, it just sets you up for a fall.

Then, pencil in 1500 words for each other day, and tick it off when you’re done. Don’t be afraid to roll with the punches. Life throws up all kinds of unexpected events, and sometimes we can’t do what we planned. But aim to complete your planned word count 80% of the time, and I guarantee you’ll see your manuscript grow.


The rough synopsis.

This is my preferred method of planning. I have a beginning, an end, and several things which I want to see happen in between. Everything else is up for grabs. My novel can evolve as I write, and I don’t need to go back and scratch out months of planning. It gives me the flexibility to let my characters decide some of the action themselves.


I hope that some of these ways of planning help. In the end, the most important thing is to write. After all, you can always make a plan for your editing!


Helen Dring is a fiction writer from Liverpool, England. She is studying for an MA in Creative Writing and is currently writing her first novel. She likes fairy tales, ghost stories and modern history.

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