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Make a plan... or not?

Updated: Sep 5, 2020

There are three most frequently asked questions:

Where do you get your ideas from?

How long does it take to write a book?

How much planning does it take?

I'll talk about the first two questions in another post but as for planning, well that's a bit more complicated to answer because - it depends!

In 2016 I discovered podcasts. I know, they've been around for long time before '16 but I'm not always a quick with new technology - just ask my son.

The daily dog walks began to sync with the amount of time it would take to get through an episode, and the chore of house cleaning, while still a chore, was at least more entertaining.

I discovered that there are numerous podcasts about how to write, writers talking about writing, writers at festivals, book reviews... and I listened to as many as I could.

It became obvious, fairly quickly, that just like when writers talk about their writing routine, how they go about getting started is just as varied. Some plan in so much detail that it can take a year or more before they start writing. However, for me, the exciting part was listening to some writers who don't plan at all!

This was news to me - planning out my novel was the one thing I was failing at, whenever I'd tried to write. If I can't finish a plan then how would I ever be able to write the draft?

So... it turns out, I'm not a planner.

When I started Unpacking Harper Holt, I had a name, an opening sentence, and an idea that formulated the first chapter (btw - the original first chapter is no longer there, but that's another story for another post). Then the next morning I wrote the second chapter, the next morning I wrote the third and on it went.

It wasn't until I got about ten chapters in that I realised I was starting to lose track of when characters appeared and who they were. I was wasting time going back to check on small details - had I allocated a hair colour, what were they wearing last chapter?? The solution was to start a tracking system - which I still use, although I've refined it a little bit.

After a chapter is written, I record, in a word or two, what the main event was, the name of any new characters that appeared, and a word count. On another page, I keep a list of the characters, who they are, their relationship to each other, and what they do. Sometimes I sketch out a map of a neighbourhood, especially if characters live near each other - it's the whole, turned left or right, walked three blocks, that I have trouble remembering.

The first draft has no planning. I don't know what's going to happen until about the chapter before or sometimes, as I am writing it.

When it started, Harper's story was going to be about moving to a new place, starting a new school... I had no idea that what happened in Chapters 7 and 8 was going to happen until I was writing them - and they changed the course of the whole story.

But...before I leave you with the idea that you don't have to plan - ever - it turns out that I am a planner.

Last year, I started writing a junior series.

Set in a fictional town, with two best friends, I am meticulous about planning - so much so that I have written four and planned out another three! I have a spreadsheet, even an illustrated map that was professionally done for me (it sits in a frame beside my computer so that I know exactly where everyone lives and where they walk).

These chapter books are only 8500 words long, take a blink of an eye to write and the writing is fun. I know precisely where they start, what is going to happen and how each will end.

To sum it up - when I write a novel - I just start and see where it goes. When I write a junior chapter book - it is by the plan. Like finding your writing routine - working out if you need to plan or not may be something else to explore.

How much planning does it take? It depends.

Unpacking Harper Holt
My notebook - Unpacking Harper Holt


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