How Should YOU Plan Your Writing Projects?
Updated: Oct 25, 2020
Considerations for developing your own unique writing process
There’s a longstanding idea that writers are either plotters or pantsers; they either work everything out ahead of time, or they have nothing worked out ahead of time and write by the seat of their pants. Some people will concede that there is some "type" in the middle, but still, there’s an idea of writers being in separate and opposing camps.
The truth is, however, that writers do many of the same things. They just do them in different writing phases and in different ways.
We can look at the big picture process of writing as pre-writing, draft-writing, and rewriting/editing. You could call those phases what you want, but the idea is that you have:
What happens before you start on page one of your first draft.
What happens between starting page one and writing the last word on your final page.
What happens after you’ve finished the first draft.
How much time a writer spends in each phase and what they do in each phase (as well as how they do it) is what differs.
here are some of the things you might do at some point when working on your project:
Find an idea
Brainstorm around the idea
Develop a premise or logline
Do character development
Develop setting and do worldbuilding
Come up with a basic summary
Decide on genre and format
Plan out plot points
Make an outline
Determine POV and voice if applicable
Theoretically, one could do all of these things before writing the first word on the first page. Or, in theory, one could write the equivalent of “Once upon a time” and then see what happens. Most people do some amount of planning and figure other things out later.
You determine what you need to know. For instance, you could figure out everything about your character before you do anything else, or you might just decide they’re a teenage vampire and then discover their many facets while you write the draft.
You also get to decide how you do your planning. You could figure things out in your head, in a sketch-book, in a free-write, in a spreadsheet, or in whatever way works for you.
Should you create an outline, you could start at the beginning and work out each step as your character might. In contrast, some writers work their way back from the ending. You could write down some of the things you imagine happening and then work to fill in whatever gaps.
Again, there is no one right process, and with so many options, deciding where to start can feel a bit intimidating!
You can follow the writing process laid out by a given writing course or book on writing, but keep in mind that if it isn’t right for you, it could make you feel like you’re not able to do this, and that just isn’t true.
Now, I can't tell you what is and isn't going to work for you as an individual, but I can give you some things to start to think about. Here are some questions to ask yourself and some things to consider as you assemble your writing process:
How do I feel about each phase of the writing process?
Generally speaking, a longer prewriting phase means a shorter rewriting phase and vice versa.
I personally hate rewriting; I want to move on to the next project already. I’d rather spend a bit more time prewriting if it means less dramatic rewrites.
Try to adjust your process to give you more time on the things you like and less on the ones you don’t.
Does having unanswered questions while writing excite me or discourage me?
Some people love to jump right into writing their draft and see where it takes them. Their experience is that this is where they find their stories.
Other people freeze up when they feel like they’re working on something important without having all of the answers. This sort of person is more likely to give up on a project if they don’t know what’s supposed to come next.
What types of things are you okay with not knowing and what things do you have to know in advance?
Does having more information make me feel secure or does it bore me?
Some people feel really good about knowing things before they begin the first draft. They’ve already worked it out, so they’re pretty sure it’s not going to be crap.
For other people, it takes all the fun out of writing.
A lot of work on the front end can even make some writers feel like they’ve already written the project, taking away the motivation to actually do so. (This has happened to me.)
How do I like to figure things out?
Do you like having a structure?
Do you prefer to play with your ideas before your draft-writing?
Do you like doing things in your head?
Are visuals like mind-maps, sketches, or spreadsheets helpful to you?
When writing in the past, at what point have things stopped working?
When did you get bored?
When did you get overwhelmed?
Where did you get discouraged?
For things that seemed to give you a hard time, ask yourself:
Can I do them earlier?
Can I do them later?
Do I need to spend more time on them?
If you’re in a rush to get to the draft but have found that it gets you into trouble:
What do you have the most fun planning? Characters? Scenes? Moments?
Is there another way to do it? Would you enjoy keeping it in your head, drawing pictures, creating a mood board, or writing scenes that may or may not end up in your draft?
This is not an exhaustive list of considerations, but it’s a good place to start.
Remember, you don’t need to force yourself to use methods that don’t work for you. Writing shouldn’t be torturous; it should be fun.