Oh the irony of being asked to write this guest post! It still pains me to recall the hours, no, the days, of agony I experienced due to NOT planning effectively whilst writing my debut novel ‘The Green Hills of Home’!
Inspired and carefree, I rattled off thousands of glorious words of prose as they came to me. I was delighted at how organised I was being, making use of tiny snippets of time to write little scenes or, more often, parts of scenes. Typing up my handwritten notes, I’d slot them into ‘approximately’ the right place in my master document, and eventually I had a romance novel length piece of writing.
Thrilled, I printed out my draft and began my first proper read-through. Just a couple of pages in and I was close to tears: my story made no sense! It was full of inconsistencies and had ended up just a series of pretty disconnected, random scenes. Important issues begun in chapter 1 had been disregarded in chapter 2. Characters eyes changed colour, sometimes within a single page. In short, my manuscript was a bit of a mess. It took months of hard work to beat the story into submission.
I was very pleased with the end result, but I couldn’t help but think the whole experience would have been a whole lot less stressful, not to mention shorter, if I’d just planned effectively.
With my second novel, ‘His Secret Daughter’, I’ve been much more organised. I now use my small snatches of time to work on smaller jobs (guest posts, interviews, book reviews…). I only ‘properly’ write when I have a decent chunk of time at my disposal, usually at least an hour. I also really tried to write the book in order, from start to finish (although I’ll admit I wasn’t ALWAYS completely successful in this aim!).
The best piece of writing advice I’ve ever been given is simply don’t jump straight in! Authors use various methods to plot their storyline BEFORE they start writing. I like to make a fairly basic sketch of the novel over a couple of pages of A4 paper – I then fill in extra details as they come to me. I divide the pages into ten areas, as that’s the number of chapters my books typically have. When I have each of those ten chapters sketched out I produce a page of notes on my hero and heroine: I’ll comment on their ages, hair colour, family members… I also find it handy to create a Pinterest board full of photos of places my characters might live or visit, as well as photos of people who look like I imagine my characters do. Only when I’ve got everything straight in my head do I actually start writing.
At the end of the day, every writer works slightly differently. I’ve found that proper planning really helps me, but it may be that what I do would make another writer feel stifled. It’s all a question of knowing how you work best, so you can decide how to plan effectively for you!