Why you need to plan ahead — a writer’s tip.
When I wrote book #1, I pretty much had no idea what I was doing. I just ploughed ahead, one word after the other, one page after the other, one chapter after the other.
It’s not a bad technique per se. Eh, it did work after all. I had a half decent completed draft done in about 4 months — not bad, but it could have been better.
Getting to the same point with book # 2 took me less than 3 months. Sure it doesn’t seem that impressive, but when you actually do the math, you realise that it is 35% bonus time. I’d also like to point out that, while I was writing, I was also adding the final touches on book #1 (getting it through several rounds of critiques, editing, proofreading) and I also started to query agents.
So what changed between book #1 and #2, you ask? Not much. I didn’t take a magical writing class, or drink radioactive potion that allows you to stay awake at night, and my computer didn’t write on its own while I was at work. Hell, I didn’t even spend more time writing. I just planned it more carefully.
In case you missed that, here I’m writing it in all caps because it’s the important part: PLAN YOUR WRITING. It’s a simple trick, but it works.
I actually feel quite dumb for having not thought of it before. It’s not rocket science and I’m sure some of you do that already. But I thought I’d throw in my two cents, just in case. If it can help just one of you it was worth the time writing all of this down.
When I start a novel, I have a basic outline of the whole story. I know how it starts, I know how it ends, and I have a bit of an idea of what goes on in the middle. Then I flesh it out; just throw some random bits, not necessarily in order, down on a piece of paper to fill in the void. All you need at the start are the most important plot points, and then writing becomes like playing connect the dots.
That is all just fine but it could get better.
Here is where planning steps in; before you start writing down a new chapter — or a big section of your book — take some time to write down a summary of it. Take a minute or five to completely flesh out the main oncoming points on a piece of paper, or some loose notepad file on your computer.
It doesn’t have to be amazing, it can be full of spelling mistakes — or in my case done in an odd mix of French and English that only make sense to me. It needs to be quick and dirty and to the point. Forget adverbs and flourish; strip your words bare and get down to the facts.
Ex: ‘Character A goes to place B and does activity C. Then character D shows up and says “What the hell, Dude ?” They get into a fight. Character A grabs a beer bottle and knocks character D out. Character A laughs a victory laugh.’
I found that if you devote a few minutes to planning before writing, it helps speed up the actual writing process. (You can do it earlier on too, I suppose.)
I like writing an entire chapter at once. So, I usually plan during the week — after I get back home from work — and then devote most of my weekends to writing. I sit down and just type and type. It becomes a constant flow of words appearing on the page, and it lasts for entire mornings or afternoons.
If it works well, it’s only because I know exactly where my story is going. I really know, because I planned it.
So there you have it. Give it a try, and let me know if it worked for you.
P.S. Also use the planning time to carry out all of the research you may have overlooked. Nothing’s worse than having to stop in the middle of writing an awesome, jaw-dropping, pinch-me-I-must-be-dreaming scene to open your internet browser to Google the name of an Underground station. Just saying…