On Track Module #4, Part #1: Planning at the Start of Your Project

Recap: In the last module, we looked at two different ways to set writing targets: by time spent, or by words written. We also went through some tips for staying focused during your writing sessions. Hopefully you had a go at the assignment and managed at least two writing sessions last week.

We’re three modules into On Track, so you’ve probably made some definite progress with your main project. (Even if you just did the 15 minutes in Module #1, that’s still a great start.)

Over the next four modules, we’ll be continuing to build great habits and set you up for the future– so you can get your project finished, and build up great writing habits for the future. This module is all about staying on track from start to end of a project.

Whatever you’re working on, you won’t spend all your time actually writing: you’ll need to plan, and replan, throughout your project.

The How and Why of Planning

I’m not going to suggest that you plan out every detail before you start. That’s generally a bit counter-productive – as you write, you’ll naturally change your mind on some things, and get a clearer view on others.

What you want is enough of a plan to keep you moving forwards, and to ensure that you’re going in the right direction (making it easy to spot time-wasting tangents when they pop up).

You’ll also want a way to generate ideas, so that you’ve got plenty of material for your project. It’s easy to think of planning as a very step-by-step, left-brained task – but the planning stage also involves gathering inspiration and letting new thoughts spark.

Planning a Novel

If you’re writing a novel, you’ll want a plan which, at a minimum, lets you:

  • Have an idea of how it’s all going to end
  • Know a few major plot points along the way
  • Have a sentence or two describing what happens in each of your first four or five chapters

You should also have some clear ideas about who your main characters are. That doesn’t just mean physical details (what they look like, their age, their profession) – you want to know their history, their weaknesses and failings, and their hidden strengths.

Fiction is tough to plan in detail, though, and unless you’re writing for a genre with very specific plot requirements, you’ll probably want to allow yourself plenty of space to explore the story.

I’ve never written a novel with a rigid plan in mind: I find that after a few chapters, I’ve learnt more about my characters and about the world that the novel’s set in, and all sorts of new ideas come to me, which I might work into the later stages of the novel. This might be how your planning and writing works too – you plan, then write, then replan, then write some more.

Planning a Blog

Aliventures-blog-screenshotBlogs seem almost to defy planning – they’re more like organic creatures, gradually growing and evolving. Unlike most written projects, blogs rarely have a planned end point (unless you hope to sell the blog) – they can run indefinitely.

You obviously, then, can’t easily “plan” an entire blog from start to end. You can aim for particular milestones, though. For instance:

  • Write and publish 20 posts
  • Submit five guest posts to other blogs
  • Write a series of ten in-depth “how to” posts

You can also create a content plan, with titles (and potentially outlines) for the posts you want to write over the next few months, or just the next few weeks.

As your blog grows, you’ll probably find yourself taking on bigger challenges. For instance, you might release a free ebook (which will require more planning, and more idea-generating, than a blog post). You might launch a paid-for product, and do lots of work to sell it.

Although blogging is great fun just as a hobby, you’ll also find it very rewarding to keep reaching new milestones. Ask yourself where you want your blog to be in a year’s time – and look for ways to move closer towards that goal.

Planning a Non-Fiction Ebook

Ebooks typically benefit from a lot of planning. And if you want to sell your ebook, you’ll need to do some pre-planning work by figuring out whether there’s a market for your topic. (Try running a survey to find out what your readers are most interested in).

Once you have a good topic in mind, start bringing together all the ideas which you have. A couple of very helpful steps are to:

#1: Create a list, or a mindmap, that lets you capture all your current thoughts about the topic. For instance, what major subsections might you need to cover? What big questions are readers likely to have? What research do you need to do?

#2: Read books, journal articles or blog posts on related subjects –  these can give you ideas about what you need to cover in your ebook. You may also want to quote from some sources, or suggest them as further reading.

Once you’ve gathered your ideas together, you’ll need to start putting them into order. That means producing a clear outline, so that you know your major sections and chapters. Yes, your plan might still change a bit along the way, but having a clear idea of what’s in lets you know what’s out – so you can avoid long diversions which don’t fit well.

You might want to get a friend to look over your plan – ask if there seems to be anything missing, or whether they can spot any problems.


>> Click here to go to the second part, where we’ll look at some different planning techniques