You should always plan your novels – why?

I have to say, one of my least favourite activities in the literary world is starting a completely new blog. It’s fine once you get into it, but taking that first step is absolutely nerve-wracking. Case in point – I set this site up a few weeks ago now, but I’ve been procrastinating putting up anything in this Editor’s Journal! Let’s take that plunge and fix this, shall we?

The idea of planning a novel is one that, to be honest, I was surprised to see a lot of prospective authors resistant to. Surely every author knows that it’s best to know when you’re going when they’re writing? It seemed pretty strange to me that people would just dive headfirst into as big a project as a novel without full preparation. Then, I started trying to write my own pieces, and it started to make a bit more sense. A novel is a big project – it represents tens of thousands of words written, and hours upon hours at a keyboard. When you’re looking at it from the top downwards, trying to create a plan for the entire thing, all of that is laid bare at once; that can be pretty damn daunting to deal with. I’d be lying if I said that didn’t put me off creating a plan for my writings for quite some time. It’s much easier, and sometimes feels much more creative, to just start writing and figure out the larger details “as you go”. But daunting things that are worth doing exist for precisely that reason – because they’re worth doing. If there was an easy way to get the same results, we’d all be doing it already. I suppose that’s somewhat why I’m writing this – both to explain why you need a plan to write the best novel you can, but also to show how that doesn’t necessarily mean turning a labour of love into a joyless task.

Why should you plan your novel?

Let’s be honest here – most of us know, deep down in our hearts, why we should be planning our novels long before we sit down to write them. As daunting a task as it might be, as much of a distraction from what we think of as “actual” writing work it is, we know that in the long-term, it will make the whole process easier. But it never hurts to state it aloud, and it helps to remind us just why we’re putting the effort into doing it. Having a plan for your novel means that you’ve always got a backbone for your work to refer back to whenever you’re feeling like you’ve gotten away from your core meaning. It means that you’ve figured out the logistics of your plot beforehand, and how your story works, rather than having to scrap half a chapter because you suddenly realise you’ve written yourself into a corner. It means, to be honest, that you know what you’re writing, rather than improvising. Take it from someone who’s done it; improvisation is all well and good in a moment, but it’s disorganised, confusing hell if you stretch if over a long period of time. Is that really something we want our novels to be?

But, as important as organisation is, it isn’t the only reason you should be making plans for your writings. Planning your novel, even if it’s just the barebones keeps you organised, keeps you consistent and keeps you on-topic – but most importantly, it gives you a goal to reach for, and a bar to set your work at. It might be painful and daunting to visualise your entire novel in one go before you’ve even begun to write it, but doing so means that when you do sit down at the keyboard, you’ve got the ability to measure your progress as you go. You know exactly how far you’ve come, and how far you’ve got to go, and that’s invaluable for keeping you writing. It’s easy to get dispirited in a novel, to get bogged down and feeling like you’re never going to reach what you’re striving for – having a plan and a direction for your writing means that there is always a goal in sight for you to reach. With a proper, thought-out plan at your side, which you shouldn’t be afraid to contact an editor to help create, you can turn something that’s daunting and scary into something that encourages you to keep going, to visualise your progress, and eventually get all those thoughts you’ve had rattling around in your head down on paper.

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