What is a Writing Plan? (And How to Create Yours in 7 Steps)
Finishing and publishing your novel is tough, no doubt about it.
Writing a book is a big project. Writers commonly underestimate everything that’s involved.
And that’s a problem, because you run the risk of wasting time, missing critical steps, or having to circle back for extensive rewrites. You might even feel frustrated enough to want to quit.
But there’s a way to avoid much of this pain: use a writing plan.
Some writers create an extremely detailed plan with breakdowns for what they need to achieve every day. Others prefer to keep things a bit looser, with flexible targets and rough outlines.
But most successful writers have some kind of plan – very few simply sit down and start to type with nothing more than a spark of an idea and a cup of coffee.
This post offers practical advice on creating a writing plan that you can put into action, to create a plan that suits you, and give yourself the greatest chance of successfully completing it.
What is a Writing Plan and Why Do You Need One?
There are three essentials for a good writing plan. Your ideal writing plan must:
- Have an overall objective.
- Break that objective into smaller goals, and list the strategies and tactics you’ll use to achieve them.
- Be something that works for you.
The third is the most important point by far. In the end, it doesn’t matter what other writers do, or what works for them, if those same approaches don’t help you finish your book.
So, no matter how attractive a particular strategy or tactic may be, if it’s not working for you, throw it out.
The Benefits of a Writing Plan
There are two main benefits of having a solid writing plan that works for you: it gives you a better chance of success, and ensures that you waste less time.
You have a better chance of success because having a writing plan is like having a map when you travel.
If you know you want to get to Paris from London, you could walk out of the house one day, follow your nose, and hope for the best. You might make it, but most people would end up knee deep in the channel – if they even made it that far.
But if you looked at a map, booked buses and trains, and checked the various transit points, then as long as you get to those stops on time and don’t get distracted, getting to Paris should be a piece of Madeleine cake.
You’ll also waste less time, because in the same way, you’ll know where you’re going and how to get there by the most efficient route.
This saves you turning up at three wrong stations before you hit on the right one, taking a bus in the wrong direction and walking around in circles far days before you finally stumble on your final destination.
Not to mention the time spent standing at crossroads with no idea which route to take.
An Important Caveat on Book Planning
While having a good plan and sticking to it are important, all the best plans have a certain amount of flexibility baked in.
This doesn’t mean you can simply disregard your plan anytime you get to a bit you don’t fancy doing. It does mean that if you are struck by inspiration, you shouldn’t put your blinders on and ignore it because it isn’t pre-written into the plan.
Going back to the traveling to Paris analogy — perhaps on your route, you notice a beautiful vista nearby. You check your plan and realise you have time to make a quick detour, take in the amazing view, and still make it to Paris on time. That’s a great time to be flexible.
Whenever you’re writing a story, you’ll be inspired by unanticipated detours. By all means, let yourself be diverted. Your novel will be stronger for it.
Or perhaps something unexpected happens and a train is cancelled. In this case, you can adjust. You don’t have to give up and go home — you can find a different train, or perhaps hire a bicycle…
In the same way, life will happen and your writing plans will get derailed. Know this going in, and be prepared to come up with alternatives.
If you planned to write 5,000 words one week but then got knocked out with the flu for three days, just increase your target over the next few weeks to absorb what you missed, or shift your deadline a bit.
How to Create a Novel Writing Plan in 7 Steps
Even though everyone’s writing plan will look a little different, there are some common steps everyone should take when developing their plan.
Follow these 7 steps, and you’ll be on your way.
1. Set Your Objective
Decide on your overall objective — for example, to write the first draft of your 50K-word novel by December 31. Keep this statement clear and measurable, but also simple and high level.
2. Break Your Objective Into Manageable Goals
Of course, “writing a book” is a task that’s too big to manage all in one go. To stay on track, you need to break that single, monstrous task into smaller, bite-sized pieces.
You may already know how you want to break the main objective down into subtasks, but if you need a little more guidance, you can borrow from the Novel Writing Roadmap. This is a 15 step plan for writing a novel, where you learn all about the craft as you write your novel.
The first 5 steps of the Roadmap are:
- Write a Premise
- Develop a Plot Outline
- Complete Character Introductions
- Write a Short Synopsis
- Expand that into an extended Synopsis
Using this Roadmap saves you time, makes sure you don’t miss any critical steps, and helps you stay on track with intermediate goals that take a few days or weeks rather than several months or a year to complete.
3. Set a Realistic Deadline
One of the most common mistakes new writers make is setting overly ambitious goals and then either immediately getting left behind, or burning out midstream. They become demoralised and eventually give up.
If you don’t want to end up like that — be realistic.
You’re much more likely to succeed if you set a modest goal of 50 words a day and achieve that than if you set a goal of 1000 words a day and miss it by day three.
When it comes to novel writing, slow and steady really does win the race. It’s a marathon, not a sprint.
So, what’s your schedule like? Do you have a part-time job or a school schedule with lots of blissful free time? Perhaps you could manage to write a couple hours a day.
Or do you have a full-time job, two kids, and lots of hobbies? Perhaps trying to average half an hour a day is more realistic.
If you have absolutely nothing else to do, then you might do well with a deadline of two or three months for writing a whole first draft, including planning and research.
If you’re pretty busy, you may want to give yourself six months.
But if you know you’re going to be snatching time wherever you can find it, a year is a perfectly reasonable time to take to write your first novel. Many writers take far longer.
Margaret Mitchell took ten years to write Gone with the Wind and JRR Tolkien took seven years to write the Hobbit (and that was speedy compared to the 16 years to write The Lord of the Rings).
When working out your deadline, it can be helpful to look at each of the goals from the previous step and allocate a set amount of time for each of them. Check out our breakdown for writing a novel in one year as your guide
4. Create a Writing Schedule
Your next step is to decide specifically when you’ll write each day. If possible, try to block out those periods of time on your calendar in advance.
You might set aside two hours every evening or twenty minutes in the morning. Or your writing may have to be slotted in at different times each day (though having a regular routine generally works better).
Scheduling your writing time in advance gives you a much better chance of success. Without that advanced planning, you might look back at the end of every day and find you never got round to it.
Blocking off time also keeps you from being thrown off track by interruptions.
For example, if you look at your diary and realise you’ll be away for two days next week (and you won’t be able to do any writing), you know you’ll need to schedule in some extra hours somewhere else to make up for that time if you’re going to stay on track.
5. Protect Your Writing Space
In an ideal world, you’ll have a lovely writing space with everything you need and no one disturbing you (ideally a bolt-locked turret overlooking an ancient forest).
That’s simply not an option for a lot of people but as far as you are able, decide where you’ll write, and keep it clear of distractions and always set up with everything you need.
Another important factor in protecting your writing space is getting buy-in from the people you live with. Show them your writing schedule, and get those people to agree to not disturb you during those times.
Once you have that buy-in, be fierce about protecting your time and place. Close the door. This is surprisingly effective at deflecting speculative distractions. Even better, lock your door, and put a Do Not Disturb sign on it.
Many people with families find it difficult to set boundaries like this, but you can be there better for your family if you can be there for yourself as well, respecting your own needs and creativity. So give it your best effort.
6. Create Incentives and Accountability
Writing ‘the end’ is a great cause for celebration.
But successful people understand the value of harnessing little rewards and incentives for achieving steps along the way.
So try to workout what motivates you and create a reward system.
Some writers put together a box of little treats, like sweets, books, or fancy pens… and for each week or month they achieve their goals, they get to take one thing out.
Maybe if you get all your tasks done, you treat yourself to a lunch out.
Or, maybe your reward can be as simple as gold stars on the calendar for each day of success.
Whatever your thing is, reward yourself when you achieve your goals, even the small ones.
As well as personal rewards, accountability is extremely effective in keeping people from drifting off course.
So you may want to announce your objective to friends, family, or your followers on social media. Knowing that people are looking forward to your book can be a very powerful motivator.
Also, if you keep people updated on your progress, they can cheer you on and keep you energised.
However, accountability isn’t for everyone, so if you’d rather keep your journey to yourself, that’s totally okay.
7. Stick to the Plan — But Not Too Rigidly
Making the plan is the easy bit — it’s following through all the way to the end part that’s hard.
Find a way to keep your plan at the forefront of your mind. Post it on your wall next to your computer or set it as wallpaper on your desktop. Or create a physical journal page and review it every day either before you start writing or after you’re done.
Most of all, remember to let your writing plan be a living document. If something isn’t working, change it!
And, be willing to adapt and be flexible. If you miss a day, or even two, don’t beat yourself up. Just adjust the plan as needed and press on.
Consistency and persistence are much more important than perfection – and they will help you finish your novel more than nearly any other habits.
Plan Out Your Novel Today and Finish Writing Your Book
Writing a novel will challenge you, but it’s one of the most satisfying accomplishments you can achieve. And if your dream is to be a novelist, you have to take your writing habit seriously, and treat it like a professional.
So is your current writing plan working for you? Pull it out and look it over. (Don’t have a written plan? Fix that today.)
Take a few minutes and make sure your plan is helping you to reach your objective – a finished book.
Walk through the steps listed above and ask yourself:
- What’s working?
- Where are you falling short?
- What helpful advice can you implement from this post, starting today?
Then take a half-hour or so to revise your current plan or to create a new one and start using it right away.
Find an accountability buddy if you need one, make a public commitment, and be sure to reward yourself along the way.
Think of the satisfaction you’ll feel once your book is finished.
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