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On Writing: Why Planning Beats Seat-Of-Your-Pants Every Time

don't get stuck in-2

I’ve worked with a lot of writers

Most of them hate planning. Most of them want to dive head-long into a draft.

  • They don’t want to think about target audience.
  • OR to road test their concepts.
  • They don’t want to write outlines, beat sheets or treatments.
  • And they certainly don’t want to write novel pitches!

But what if I told you that planning could not only help you avoid a world of pain … it could help you write a BETTER DRAFT?? Yup!!! Read on …

I get it, I really do

There’s something quite thrilling about writing by the seat-of-your-pants. I’ve had various Bang2writers describe it as being akin to having “no safety rope”.

I kind of like that analogy; it feels like that to me, too. Sometimes, especially when you feel blocked or uncertain, throwing caution to the wind can work FOR your writing. It can help “crack” the elements of the story of characters you’re having trouble with.

However, very often writers AREN’T doing this. Instead they’re afraid of the hard work at foundation level. This means they gloss over any potential character or plotting issues by diving in head first instead.

Time is NOT running out

Lots of writers who want to dive into a draft confess to thinking “time is running out”.  But it’s not. Panic kills creativity. What’s more, here’s the irony: the more you PLAN, the quicker you’ll FINISH!!

I call it “The Story Swamp”

I’ve seen so many writers flounder in half-baked concepts and screwed up, samey stories now … This is invariably because they have resisted planning their stories. Yet those who’ve resisted temptation to dive straight in have ADVANCED through their drafts and out the other side to their next one!

What’s more, those writers who have not avoided planning tend to write well-thought-out drafts. This in turn gets them stuff (options, credits, places on schemes and initiatives). The ones stuck in the “story swamp” could only dream about these things!

Planning is the key

When I say “planning”, so many writers shudder. I see them balk at the idea, as if research is the killer of all spontaneity. But it’s not! It can even ADD to your creativity!! (YES REALLY).

“It’s a new take on X”

NEWSFLASH: No one can make a “new take” on “whatever” if they don’t know what came before.

I can’t tell you how many times I’ve been pitched and it goes *something like* this:

WRITER: It’s a new take on [MYTH]! It’s genre-busting! The story is [BLAH].

ME: Okay, sounds interesting. How is it different to [ X MOVIE/TV SHOW ]?

WRITER: Oh, I haven’t seen it.

ME: Okay, what about [ Y MOVIE/TV SHOW ] or [ Z MOVIE/TV SHOW ]?

WRITER: Oh, I haven’t seen those either. Mine’s completely different, anyway!

ME: But how do you know?

Bear in mind, 9/10 the movies or TV shows I’m most likely mentioning are *mainstream*. They’re not difficult to get hold of, read about and compare.

As a result, this lack of research means the writer in question is exposed as being unprepared. It also means s/he has a stronger than average chance of simply rehashing a story ALREADY told. This is why planning is KEY.

Look, it doesn’t matter *how* you plan

Here’s how I do it …

  • I make copious notes in a dedicated notebook.
  • And read craft articles online.
  • I look at sales and marketing trends
  • I ask the industry people around me what they want to see more of, or less of.
  • Also I think about stuff *I* like – and dislike … AND WHY
  • I ask others their own preferences
  • Then I think about the types of themes, ideas and characters I am interested in
  • Also I read books and watch movies with them in.
  • I decide what I think worked well and what I think didn’t.
  • I think about how I might have approached the same idea and see what comes out of that.

And NO, I don’t force anything to come to the surface. Why should I?

After this stage, I may take to the computer. I might write a a short 20-40 word pitch and/or a one pager in the first instance, followed by a 2 or three page “short story” version, then build it up from there.

But remember – there’s no “industry standard” to this sort of thing. Do whatever works for you.

But you WILL regret not planning

Trust me, I’ve had to deal with the fallout from writers not planning more times than I care to count. Many of them never recover. They end up junking their projects that could otherwise have worked. They end up demoralised. Some even quit writing altogether.

I’m deadly serious and NOT exaggerating. I’ve seen it over and over and over again.

In the very least, NOT planning will add to the length of your project writing time by at least 50%. And who has time to spare??

So, here’s what planning gives you …

  • You will have a bombproof central concept
  • You will be able to target your pitches better
  • Your writing is more likely to be elevated above your standard default style
  • You will seem like you know what you’re talking about to Industry People
  • You will FINISH FASTER!

What’s not to like? GET GOING!

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6 thoughts on “On Writing: Why Planning Beats Seat-Of-Your-Pants Every Time”

  1. Lucy,

    Awesome-pawsome blog. Here’s my dilemma — working on a sci-fil/fantasy novel and, about 200 pages in, the swamp monster grabbed my ankle. So I started the index card method (all over my dining room walls) + added character and scene images. Shit. I’m still stuck. So dove back into writing more scenes. Do you have any BOOK or other blog to point me re: novels, especially something this tricky-complex as sci-fi/fantasy? Pure (Fumbling in the Dark) Heart, CJ

  2. I liked your article because it emphased what I have put off doing. Planning, writing a detailed outline. You really stressed what I knew I should be really pushing myself to do. Sometimes you just half to read it. Thank you.

  3. THANK YOU. You are the first writer (or one of the first) I’ve encountered who wholeheartedly advocates planning. I’ve always been beat over the head by folks who say “Just DO IT” but I can’t! I have to have faith in what I write and I can’t do that unless I’ve thought about it, and researched it and organized it beforehand. Clearly I still haven’t mastered that because I’m still trying to finish my original work. But I’ve experienced being able to just write like the wind once everything is planned. And even if it changes, all of that planning releases my anxieties and lets me take the leap of faith and just write. Where I am weak however is the market research. I HAVE to double down on that. I used to do it but withdrew from a lot of it because I didn’t want an inundation of media input to wash out my own original worldview and creativity. I feel stronger now, so I think maybe I can give it a go again. Thank you again!

  4. When it comes to Swamp -does not make me Think Of You.. thou, if I ‘sea’ the word ‘pond’ you come (up) first. I enjoyed, more than I should have , your article as my mother of age 84 is buying Final Draft and is writing on a crime series – without outlining any prep.

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