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How to Write a Novel, Part III (Planning)

by Russell Dyer
published:  oct 28, 2017;  revised:  dec 28, 2017;  readers in past month:  900

In the previous two articles in this series on how to write a novel, we looked at how to get started and how to write at length. These articles discussed preliminary concepts, getting you in the correct frame of mind to be able to write a novel. Let’s now look at the notion of planning a novel, or rather how not to plan a novel.

Without an Outline

Many people who have never written a novel will write an outline of their novel before they start. They may even write a synopsis of each chapter and each sub-chapter. They will storyboard it with note cards or by some other means. This works well for some people, but it’s not the most creative method.

The more you plan, there tends to be less creativity. You may have some creative moments as you think of what you want to say in each chapter, as you write a paragraph summarizing what each chapter will be about. However, when you have an idea of what you want to write, start writing. Don’t squelch the creativity of each chapter by limiting yourself to a paragraph and then jumping to the next chapter. When you have an idea for a chapter, write the chapter, as much as you can, until you can’t write any more. See where it takes you.

If you write an elaborate outline, the creativity won’t take you anywhere because you will have constrained yourself to the outline. So, don’t write an outline. You can write one after you write the first draft to help improve the organization, but you may not need to do it then.

Ordering Chapters

Since you can change the text before the novel is published, don’t feel obligated to write the chapters in order. Maybe you start with a boy who is 10 years old in the midst of rubble in Aleppo, Syria. But later you decide to add earlier chapters about the boy and his family before he was orphaned and then you add chapters about how he came to be alone. Maybe even later you decide to change the protagonist to a girl. You can jump around, you can change elements, and you change reorganize. The important thing is just to write.

Don’t Edit

When writing, don’t edit. The more particular you are about the text being perfect, the more you’re going to want to edit as you go along. Don’t do it. When you’re in creative mode, don’t edit anything. If you start editing the text and revising what you write, you will throw yourself out of creative mode and into edit mode. When that happens, you’ll refine excessively one page or so, but the text will stop expanding. Then you’ll be stuck and not know what to write or how to write more than a couple of pages.

Some writers find that it’s better to write the first draft of a novel with a pen in a notebook. This will limit the amount of editing they can do. They focus instead on getting the story on paper and worry about improving it later, after they’ve transcribed it to a computer for revising. They don’t worry about phrasing or word choices or spelling or anything. Again, just write.

In summary, start with a basic idea and then write. Don’t plan, don’t organize, don’t edit, don’t stop. Just write and write until you can’t write any more. Then take a break and write some more. If you want to be a writer, you just need to write.