The Importance of Planning in Writing

As I launched my coaching business, there was a lot more to it than just putting out a shingle and saying “Hey, I’m a coach!”

I mean, to be honest, that was a big part of it. And nearly as scary as when I started calling myself a writer!

But, unlike when I took the leap to call myself a writer because I was, you know, already writing, announcing myself as a book coach was just the start since I wasn’t already coaching. To launch a coaching business, I had to start building some things. And fast. Contracts and packages and scheduling and payment systems and so many more logistics.

Every time I crossed something off my to-do list, I added five more. There were endless things to plan for and it all seemed a bit overwhelming.

Just like when writing a book. You write one word, one sentence, one paragraph, one scene, one chapter at a time. And then. After a few weeks/months/years, you have a rough draft that you can go back and tear apart and rewrite and revise and polish until a few weeks/months/years later you have a finished novel.

But before you can start with your first word or sentence or paragraph, there needs to be some planning.

I already hear you fellow pantsers objecting at the mere mention of the word “planning.” Let me stop you right there. Even pantsers do some planning before writing whether they acknowledge it or not. There’s the idea that’s perhaps been noodling in your brain, sentences or scenes appearing in the shower or during your commute. Maybe a news story piqued your interest or a conversation over coffee with a friend sent you down a research rabbit hole. Not to mention the fact that you live in and experience the world on a daily basis. Before you put fingers to keys or pen to paper, you have an idea of what you want to say. Even if it’s just something to say about the way the sun reflected off the water at sunset on your vacation.

Before I could tackle contracts and packages and payment systems I had to plan. Specifically, I needed to ask myself some key questions. Who did I want to serve? How could my skills best help them? What do I want my days to look like? How can I protect some writing time? What terms match my values? I needed to answer some fundamental questions about how I was going to do business before I could actually do business.

Similarly as writers, we need to ask ourselves some fundamental questions about our work before we start it. If I had jumped into client work without addressing the bigger picture issues of why I am doing this work and how I want to feel and how I want my clients to feel, then we’d both leave the experience unfulfilled. If I jump into writing a book before knowing what genre I’m writing or what I’m trying to say, the reader will leave the experience unfulfilled, not to mention it may take me years to write my way to the answers.

Before you freak out about what this level of planning entails, take a deep breath. I am not suggesting you need to do a firm and fast thirty-page outline with entire life stories for each of your characters. (I mean, if that’s your process, go for it. That would personally destroy all happiness in me, but that’s me!)

But you do need to ask yourself a few questions*.

  • Who is your ideal reader (and no, it’s not “everyone!”)—be specific. Who is the person reading your book? What do they do for fun? What is their favorite movie? Where are they reading your book? Whatever gets you to describe that one perfect reader you hope to find who loves your book and shares it with all their like-minded friends.
  • What is your point? What’s are you trying to say? What do you hope the reader thinks/feels/does when they finish your book?
  • Why are you writing this book? What unique perspective do you bring to this material/topic/genre/world?

Take a stab at answering these questions whether you are sketching out an idea, stuck in the murky middle of a first draft, or about to embark on your revision. Then come back to them whenever you feel a little lost in your manuscript. Have the answers changed? Did you want them to? The answers might lead you down a new, exciting path or might show you where you’ve gone astray from a path you wanted to stay on. Either way, it should help you figure out your next step.

But, I also acknowledge in both business and starting a novel project, there is the danger of procrasti-planning and you may just need to jump in. Personally, I’m jumping in to my business and while I have a bunch of the logistics crossed off my to-do, I am working on the rest as I go. I feel confident I can do that BECAUSE the key questions are answered and I only have to look back at those responses to keep me on track with the rest of my list. If you’ve answered the basic questions, jump in with your writing, too, and when you get stuck, come back to your responses. Remember who you’re writing for and why. Then keep putting those words on pages into sentences and paragraphs and scenes and chapters.

A little planning can go a long way. Perhaps all the way to The End.

*These questions are part of the Blueprint for a Book and are designed to help any fiction writer create a firm foundation before and during the writing process. If you’re interested in digging deeper into these pre-planning questions, check out the #AmWriting podcast summer series on the Blueprint.

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Photo by Gabrielle Henderson on Unsplash

Published by Monica Cox

Monica is a writer and book coach who helps writers get unstuck so they can reach their writing goals.

2 thoughts on “The Importance of Planning in Writing

  1. Honing in on your ideal reader is such a great technique to remember, because oftentimes we write for ‘you all’ or just a faceless crowd, which takes away the personal feeling of a post. And procrasti-planning is such a great term. Anyway, thanks for this post, Monica!


    1. I wish I could remember from whom I heard procrasti-planning so I could give proper credit–it’s a great term!! I think honing in on an ideal reader has the same benefits as using specificity in our writing to illuminate the universal. It seems counter-intuitive at times, but, as you point out, makes it more personal. Glad the post resonated.


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