Essential writing skills: planning, planning, planning

I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again – the trick to effective writing is planning.

Wright_SydneyNov2011Planning the whole thing before even starting, be it book, essay, short story or whatever. Planning each section or chapter. Planning each sequence. Planning, planning, planning.

Sure, it’s fun to do what people call ‘pantsing’ – making stuff up as you go along, getting caught up in your own story.  It carries the vibrance of fresh creativity. But for writers who are starting out it often leads to dead ends, tangles or big-scale structural failures. Put another way, writing as personal entertainment doesn’t cut the mustard when it comes to producing stuff to time, length and specification. Which is how publishing works.

Yes, sure Famous Novellist X or Y (I’m thinking Stephen King) will say that they ‘pants’ their way through their stories. Actually they don’t, exactly. Usually they know where it’ll end. And they’re experienced enough – they’ve done the million word apprenticeship – to have command of their style and content. They can structure properly on the fly, and they know what elements have to come where to make the story compelling.

The rest of us – well, planning counts. Trust me on that one. Start broad; what is the purpose of the written material? Can you sum it up in a sentence. In the industry, that’s called a ‘logline’.

If it’s a novel, don’t get caught up in the intricacies of plot or narrative. You need a deeper level than that for a logline, which reflects the character arc of the key character. If it’s non-fiction, what is the thesis – the argument?

This broad purpose applies to everything that’s written – from a letter to an essay to a short story to a doctorate to a novel.

Copyright © Matthew Wright 2014


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6 thoughts on “Essential writing skills: planning, planning, planning

  1. And then my WIP (work in progress) turns into RIP (revision in progress) and I find out how much I didn’t get close to right. If you can’t tell, I’m going through that at the moment. My Part One doesn’t start soon enough for once. My First Plot Point is really my Inciting Incident and a later disaster is really my First Plot Point. And my Part Four is really in Part Three. Heavy sigh.

    1. It’s all positive though, if you look on it as part of the writing experience – a learning curve. We all do it. Everything counts: in the end, when you look back on it, no experience is wasted, when it comes to writing.

  2. I agree that planning is important, but I also feel that it can sometimes stunt the creative process. You may well know your start and end point, but if you’re too strict with everything in between then it can lead to Brick Wall Syndrome! Part planning can certainly help with that, but your characters and your story will always surprise you along the way. I write fiction, and I think one of the most important aspects is knowing your characters. Their hopes, fears, feelings. Their past, present and even future. I have a bigger picture, but if I’m writing a 100K word novel, then planning that 100K is massively daunting, and I find that the B,C,D,E is as important as A-Z when planning. So I have a vague idea of BCDE that ultimately gets me to Z. But the beauty of writing is that we are all always learning, and editing, editing, editing, editing, editing… 🙂

    1. Writing is definitely an endless learning curve. And a very large chunk of it is editing! New ideas always float in through the process. The trick, I guess, is to be able to adapt any plan to suit.

  3. Great post! I’m a firm believer in planning and outlining. I would much rather spend a month on an outline than have the rewrite the whole thing in revision. Also, I like Stephen King but I think he could stand to plan a little better. His endings usually fall flat and he tends to meander a bit.

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