Planning can be a lot of things to a lot of people. Since my concussion, I’ve done more and more of it. I have to plan out my days so I don’t get overwhelmed, I have to plan out my meals, and I have to plan out my outings.
Mainly because when I do go out and am around noise and people, I need a moment to decompress before and after (otherwise it least to non-stop days of migraines, brain fog, fatigue…and I’ll spare you the rest).
So, how does planning factor into my writing, and how could it factor into yours?
Plotter vs Pantser
I’m always asked whether I’m a plotter or a pantser when I do author interviews, and my answer is always a firm ‘pantser.’ Which then leads to the inevitable follow-up question of, ‘how DO you plot your books, then?’ (For the plotters out there, you may find a useful tool in Plottr!)
And I know I’m not alone, having spoken to various authors acquaintances who do the same. I’m actually writing a co-author series right now and the first thing I asked my co-author was, ‘Please tell me you don’t plot every scene to the Nth degree.’ She laughed and said she doesn’t. We did end up planning out our series later on, and that turned out fine without going into too much depth.
If I don’t plot, how do I know where the story goes? How do I ensure I don’t miss things? That I don’t have plot holes?
A lot of that comes in the editing phase, for me.
And like I said, I know I’m not alone in this, but I also know a lot of authors who do plot every bit of their story in order to write. None of that is wrong. There isn’t a right or wrong way to write, so long as you do write, and you never let the plotting deter you from writing.
And though I don’t plot, per se, I do plan. I plan to write out 1,000 – 2,000 words a day, and I schedule my daily tasks around that.
When I’m in the editing phase, I plan to edit two to three chapters per day, and I follow through on that. And I’ll plan, usually, to have X amount of chapters in a book, containing an average of X number of words, and vague themes. These are all things you need to plan out, as well.
As for the rest? I figure it out while I write the story itself.
The plot, the intricacies of the characters, all that comes to me while I write my first draft.
After, though…well, that’s where planning really comes in handy. Because it helps me plan what I want my story to say; what I want readers to get from it; how I’ll launch it into the world, and when.
So, you see, planning has its nice, cushy spot in my writing. And I would never give it up. While some writers may frown at this method, and others will relate, what I can tell you is this:
- Since August 2016 to now (four years later), I have 17 works under my name, plus two boxsets;
- By the end of this year, that’ll be up to 19 works;
- 2020 has been my best so far, with two of my newer releases hitting the Amazon Hot Releases charts in their categories and climbing into top tens within days of their release; they even stayed within the top fifty for a good few weeks;
- I’ve learned to write better, faster, and even trim down my editing phases in order to complete my works more efficiently.
All of this was done through planning; setting goals, and planning ways to achieve them. If you think being a writer is only about the writing and plotting, you’re mistaken. That is where the journey begins, grasshopper.
I’ll stop talking in vague terms now and give you the basics of how I do what I do, without landing myself into plotter territory or writer’s block.
And, with a bit of luck, it’ll be something that helps you achieve the same, too.
Planning a book without necessarily plotting it
I should mention that for me, planning a book brings a very vivid image of sitting down and making characters sheets, settings, etc.
Plotting is more working out, scene by scene, dialogue by dialogue, what the story will be about. In other words, it’s the nitty gritty. I love doing the high-level stuff (planning) but the nitty gritty always grinds me to a halt. Even with planning, I don’t always go into that much detail.
Most of the times, all I look for is a voice. The voice of the character usually comes with the idea for the story. Sometimes it’s as simple as ‘oooh, vampires!’ or reading about a particular mythology and deciding to throw my own spin on it. Sometimes I’ll get more specific ideas.
Whatever the case is, the first step is writing it down. Letting it percolate. Sometimes that takes a day, sometimes a week, sometimes months.
I have, at the moment of writing this, ideas for twelve more series, and at least forty novels combined. But I’m not writing all of them at once because a) that’s impossible and b) I haven’t heard a voice yet for the main characters.
Once the characters’ voice comes through, I know I have something. That’s what drives my stories. It’s being able to get under the skin of the character and figure out where their journey starts, and where it’s going.
Truth be told, I never have a full idea of where my story will go. A lot of times this lands me in hot water because I’ll finish a series only to have another one start! Hello, spinoffs. That’s what gave birth to the Rogues Extended Universe.
But, it’s also an amazing way to avoid writer’s block. I’ve never sat down in front of a blank page and not been able to write. The main reason is that I let my mind go, and just write. No judgements. No editing. Nothing stopping me (unless it’s my dogs Zeus or Achilles begging for cuddles).
What I do, however, is I’ll write down ideas for the story—to plan it.
For example, when writing Moonlight Rogues, I knew that I would have four wolves, of four different backgrounds, each with a secret that would be uncovered in their specific book.
I didn’t decide on those secrets at the beginning. Nor did I decide on anything other than their personalities and names. I knew Dom would be a troublemaker, Tristan the suffering soldier, Finn the rule follower, and Lucas the hardened alpha.
When I wrote Dom’s story in First to Fall, that’s when I learned more about the characters themselves. But originally? I started off with a couple of bullet points, some names, and an idea that each book would cover a different type of wolf folklore. Sometimes, that’s all you need.
Other times, you need to write down character sheets and ideas for settings, especially if you have a very action-packed story, or an epic fantasy that requires world building. It would be hard to write (and keep writing!) if none of that first-time planning takes place.
But if you find that you’re having a hard time getting those ideas on paper, try it for yourself.
Stop overthinking about grammar and punctuation and research and everything in between, and write. Let the words flow, and see where they take you.
I find it helpful to pick a scene of a book I really, really want to write—that’s the ice breaker you’re looking for.
What about planning for research?
You have to be aware when starting whether your book requires research. That’s part of planning out your writing year, and figuring out what you’ll need. A bit like when you decide to try out a new recipe, you make a list of ingredients.
More often than not, your book will require research. If you’re writing a historical romance for example, you’ll need to research everything about that period. If your character suffers from a particular affliction, the same applies.
For me, I needed to know the myths I was writing about. So in my off times during non-writing periods, I would read mythology encyclopaedias and more. Jot down ideas, etc. When I wrote, that research was forefront of my mind.
And it’s in the editing phase that I made sure I didn’t screw anything up.
When writing Second to Surrender, I knew Tristan would suffer from PTSD. I researched the hell out of it, plus it helped I had some prior knowledge of it (in a different context). The research helped me plan out, in my mind, Tristan’s journey. I knew he would go from suffering certain symptoms to not having them anymore. Or, having them less. But I never specifically plotted all the interactions he would have with other characters, or what they would lead to, etc. I just wrote.
My point is, in all these instances, planning had its role in that it helped me manage my time, and figure out a way forward—and it can for you, too. The rest came through the writing itself, and could follow the same path for you.
Planning out the editing phase
No matter what genre you write and how much/little you know of editing, you have to include it in your planning for a book.
I used to hate editing. I still do, sometimes—which is hilarious since I edit now for a living. But, I find an odd joy in helping others to fix issues in their stories. For myself? It’s a bit more complicated.
However, editing serves a major purpose for me. Which is, it gets my book to make sense.
Some authors will prefer to have it make sense as they write it. Like I said, there’s no good or bad way to do it. I find that if I focus on editing when I write, I lose the flow. I end up distracted. And it takes me twice as long to write.
Right now, if I have no distractions, I can free write a novel in about three to four weeks. Then edit and fix it up in another month, month and a half, to get it ready for publication.
Sometimes the editing takes me less time, sometimes more. But this way of planning has enabled to get out four or five novels of proper quality every year, despite my concussion last year.
All this to say: plan your edits. And don’t underestimate how long it’ll take you to plan, either.
Give yourself a buffer (a week or two is ideal) and take into account what’s going on in your slice of the world, too. If fall or spring or the end of the month is busy for your day job, you’ll want to take those delays into account.
Planning for after the book is done
When I plan for a calendar year, I take into account the different phases mentioned above (research, writing, editing, etc), but I also plan out how the launches will go.
It took me a while to figure out a proper checklist that works for my genre and the books I write, but I finally did.
Now, I know that in a launch month, I need to set aside time for marketing, preparing book teasers and trailers, engaging with readers, and most of all? Preparing the launch itself.
Despite what you may believe, it’s not as simple as hitting that ‘publish’ button. At least, not if you want to do it right, and maximise your book’s first month out in the world.
So these days, I include a little buffer in my planning to take into account this area, too. And while the launch is big, keeping up with the marketing after the book is out also takes its own time.
No matter if you’re a beginner, intermediate or advanced, you have to plan out time for these things. Otherwise, they creep up on you and you’ll end up doing a not-so-good job at them. And in the long run, that hurts you and your books.
What’s consistent about my planning
The one thing consistent about my planning is, I always make sure to carve out time for writing. After all, it’s the joy of my existence; the one thing that makes me happy no matter what kind of day I’m having.
When I’m in a writing month, I will write almost every single day. Sometimes 2,000 words, sometimes 6,000 words a day, it all depends on my mood and my head behaving.
Being prone to migraines means I can only spend so much time in front of a computer per a day.
But I do make writing a priority in my every day, and I find that makes a difference towards me actually achieving my goals versus just talking about them.
And…need I say it? So should you.
Find a spot for your writing in your day. Something you can stick to no matter what kind of day you’re having. If you’re the type who writes in off bursts, then find a timeframe in the weekend or early morning.
Building habits is as important to planning as everything else. If you don’t care enough about something to make it a priority, then you shouldn’t do it.
Building a habit around writing meant that I had to rearrange certain things in my life. Mainly, the amount of free time I use on other things like watching movies or reading. I enjoy both, but I use them more as rewards now rather than daily occurrences.
‘But I don’t have time’
‘I don’t have time’ is a myth—sorry.
When I first started writing, I was doing it during my lunch break at work, and on my commute heading home. This between going to university full time, having two dogs, and trying to build a relationship. Or planning a wedding. Or dealing with a family death. Or having a concussion and dealing with the aftereffects. Or, really, in between life itself.
Now, I have a job that’s a bit more flexible and the ability to work from home means I can dedicate more time to writing since I don’t have a three-hour commute in and out of work.
I use that time instead. I wake up earlier in the morning, walk the dogs, then sit down and write for thirty minutes. Then I’ll do it again during lunch. After work, I’ll dedicate a full one and a half to three hours to it. These are habits I built over time.
But as writing is important, I also started planning time for the other aspects of it: marketing, editing, reading books in the genre to build up on my craft.
Nowadays, I have to devote a certain amount of time per day to LIAS activities, too—editing contracts for clients.
Believe me, it sounds like a lot, but it is possible. Whether you have a chronic pain issue like I do, or a child, or pets, or anything else…it is possible.
After my concussion, I had a hard time dealing with more than one thing at once. Having too much on my plate was anxiety-inducing. I couldn’t make heads or tails of marketing or anything else.
And then, Nicholas Erik helped me figure out how. His website, particularly his 80/20 Crash Course, is full of useful tidbits. A lot of his work helps you plan out launches and figure out marketing tricks.
But the most important thing I learned from him had, hilariously, to do with planning out to-do lists. And it goes like this:
If you only have 3 hours a day to dedicate, and you do 1 hour to writing, 1 hour to reading and 1 hour to marketing, in one year you’ll have written 4-5 novels, read 75 novels, and mastered at least one type of marketing – be it newsletters, or ads.
I’m paraphrasing, but you get the gist. This also works if you only have one hour a day to dedicate. The key is to make that one (or three) hours count. No distractions. No YouTube. No social media. Just pure focus.
Plan to succeed, act on those plans (baby steps are fine!), and the rest will come in stride.