Essential writing skills: three reasons to plan

I posted a while back on the importance of planning for writers.  Today – more about why to do it.

My Adler Gabrielle 25 - on which I typed maybe a million words in the 1980s.
My Adler Gabrielle 25 – on which I typed maybe a million words in the 1980s.

Writers plan their material to control it – to keep it within length, to avoid being caught up in dead-ends, to make sure the structure is correct.

Yes, it’s fun to free-flow the ideas. And there can be advantages to having that freshness of material. The hard reality from the professional perspective is that writing that way is actually writing-for-personal-entertainment. A pastime. Writing as production – as in, coming up with the goods for a publisher, to time, is a different ball game. But it’s something writers have to learn how to do if they’re to enter the field.

Self-publishing doesn’t change that calculation – it makes it harder, because the onus is then thrown on the writer to also be the publisher. And one of the advantages of separating the two is that publishers give a different view to a book.

So why must we plan? Three reasons – all, really, variations on the same theme: control. Control of content. Control of scale. Control of time.

1.  Planning to broadest scale gives the writing its initial over-arching structure – the logline or thesis is a good starting point.

2. Writing has to be efficient – to have a dynamic to draw the reader forward. Writers working to deadline can’t afford dead ends, or to mis-structure the piece. Planning the structural detail is essential.

3. That rule of purpose applies down to sentence and word level. Every chapter, every sequence, every sentence – all must have a purpose, which is to push the story or content along. If it doesn’t, it shouldn’t be there. Ask why – why does character X do such-and-such. Is it to reveal more of their character? If you’re writing non-fiction, how does the sentence or paragraph contribute to the argument?

There’s a lot more to planning than this, of course. More soon.

Copyright © Matthew Wright 2014


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4 thoughts on “Essential writing skills: three reasons to plan

  1. Great suggestions! As fun as “pantsing” my way through my first novel draft was, I’ve learned the importance of basic planning–all the while knowing we can change our plans as needed. 🙂

    1. It’s that ability to change – to adapt the plan when something unexpected happens or the proverbial Good Idea emerges, that is perhaps the key to planning. I’ve found it invaluable – I’ve just emerged from a writing frenzy (blogging about it next week or the week after) which I couldn’t have achieved without some system for structure and direction.

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