Alright, it’s time to start writing. You have an idea, whether it be loose or solid, but you have an idea, and it’s time to put it onto paper.
The question is… do you plot? Do you pants? Who are you? What are you doing?
I’ll go ahead and spell it out right now – I plot to pants. What do I mean by that? I mean, I plot just enough that, once I’m writing, I can pants it, so long as I loosely stay near the path. If I veer too far off course, I need to stop and plot again, then resume pantsing.
PLEASE NOTE THAT THIS METHOD WILL NOT WORK FOR EVERYONE!
AND THAT IS OKAY.
Before I get too far into this, though, I feel like now is a good time to drop a few resource links! Please note, none of these are affiliate links. They are simply things I found via google at the start of my journey, and they might help you in some way!
As always, take anything you see or learn with a grain of salt. Okay then!
The Self Pub Workshop’s Checklist
AGAIN these are all things that I stumbled across and loosely used to put together a timeline for myself, knowing how long it takes me to write and edit things and also allow the help of others. Take a look! See what you do and don’t want to do!
I will be mentioning two different ways of planning your novel during this post. One is specifically for romance writers.
I will mostly be talking about Romancing the Beat, because this format is how I wrote books BEFORE discovering this book, and it’s now the way that I only write books going forward, because I like the four act system!
Finally, we have my own personal spreadsheets. I will be referencing these throughout. Please copy this file to make your own, and use them as needed. These are the spreadsheets that were mentioned multiple times during my tiktok lives.
Elle M Drew’s Planning Plotting Editing Spreadsheets
Now that you have all of that, it is time to get to the meat of this… which is…
PLOTTING TO PANTS
Again, I want to reiterate that this is how I do it. This might not work for you, but, it doesn’t hurt to give it a go if you’re staring at the page, unsure where to start.
I start by word vomiting.
I take my plot idea, whatever it is, and I spill it all into a word document. All of the possible events, all of the options, all of the things I’m not sure about. I don’t do any bullet points, I don’t worry about typos. I just spill it all out into one giant long spiel. I don’t even add paragraphs! It’s simply all of my plot idea put into one document.
And then I start to organize it… in a separate sheet.
By leaving the original idea untouched, it means that, when I make a “final” decision, I can go back later and look at what my other thoughts were, in case I change things along the way. This is where I pull up my chapter planner, in that, I start to organize my thoughts based on plot points, just, what happens when.
Please note, some of these plot points are things that won’t actually be in a chapter. Some of them will be things that happen off screen and will be referenced later, or they’re things that happen before the start o the plot.
I also like to use a calendar during this phase. This can be as simple as printing a monthly calendar off, or using google calendar to input things. I have a google calendar and set my series in 2018, so that I can add things on there without current things interrupting it.
Once you have a bullet point timeline of what happens when, it’s time to plot out the plot of your book. This is where you will use either Save The Cat or Romancing the Beat. I use the four act structure, which then breaks down into four plot points of the four act structure. I figure out what goes where, without worrying about the bullet point split up.
What I mean is, sometimes a few bullet points fit into one section, and sometimes, one bullet point covers two sections, or whatever.
The point is, I figure out my plot, how it goes up, how it goes down.
AND NOW IT IS TIME FOR MY SPREADSHEETS.
With all of this in hand, a loose plot idea, a bullet point timeline of what happens when, and the four act structure, I plot out my chapters. I try to keep each act at or around 8 chapters, but sometimes it’s more and sometimes it’s less.
The point is, I have my chapters broken down into organized little tidbits.
From there, I fill out the character sheet with what I know, like names, and then print off the rest of it to be filled out as I go. What I mean is, if I mention a scar on someone’s hand, I write it down on the character sheet, to be typed in later.
AND THEN IT’S TIME TO WRITE.
You’ve plotted what you can, so now it’s time to pants your way through it. You have a location, characters, an idea of who they are. It’s time to see what they do.
IN WHAT ORDER DO I WRITE?
This is something that I’m asked quite frequently, so I’m going to touch on it really quick. I personally write in chronological order. You can’t know how something is going to play out until you write it, and how an event happens will influence the future. This is why I write things in chronological order. If there’s a flashback, or books overlap, etc, I write from start to finish, what happens when, organized manner.
This means that I wrote the first half of my second book before I wrote the epilogue of my first book, because they overlap. And, this continues on through the series.
But if you want to do it differently? Jump ahead and write a favorite scene? Etc? Do it! If that works for you, then do it!
I know that someone will ask, so I’m going to go ahead and answer, but also list other options. The question will be… where do you write.
So for me personally, I use 4thewords.com. It costs about $40 a year, with the idea of turning writing into a game. I do not recommend this for everyone, but for my video game loving completionist daily quest self, this is perfect. It gives me the drive to keep pushing forward on word count. I love it.
That stated, I then transfer everything over to a google doc. I use google to do everything after I write it, up until the formatting phase, when I move it to atticus.
This means editing, pier review, betas, pro-writing aid, all of it. All of my editing is done fully in google drive.
I used to 100% write everything in google, and you can still do that. It’s saved online to your google account, so if your computer breaks, you still have access.
There are also other options like, of course, microsoft word, but this does cost money. I haven’t really used it in years.
And of course, there’s also Scrivener. Some people live and die by Scrivener, but it was far too complicated for me to figure out. It also doesn’t automatically save in a cloud and instead saves to your computer, and given that my computer is unreliable at best, I feared losing my work.
There is no right answer for this – figure out where you like to write, and do it.
HOW TO CHAPTER
Another common question I get is how many chapters to write, how big should a chapter be, and how do you decide when to end it. This is 100% all personal preference, you do you, but here’s what I do.
Like I said above, I set each act to be at or around 8 chapters.
8 chapters x 4 acts = 32 chapters + epilogue.
My goal for word count for my books is about 90k.
90k / 33 chapters = 2.7k words per chapter.
So my goal is to have my chapters be between 2.5k and 3k, because this should average out to about what I want my word count to be.
Now, is that a set in stone amount? No. If the chapter is done where it’s at, then I leave it be, even if we’re not at word count. Am I going to stop a chapter because I’ve hit my max? No, I keep going.
When a chapter has a natural ending, I let it be.
Please note, when I talked about bullet pointing the various chapters, these are not set in stone either. If two chapters go together well to be one chapter and isn’t huge? I go for it. If what was supposed to be one chapter becomes huge and has a natural split that can become two chapter? I split it.
There should be a natural pause or ending, something that shifts, to go from one chapter to the next. And please remember, you can always change it later.
Nothing is set in stone until you publish.
HOW MANY WORDS
I hear some of you – how do I decide how many words I want my book to be. This is going to pair well with the next question, which is, how many words should I be writing per day. The answer is… it’s up to you!
My goal, PERSONALLY, is to write a chapter a day. Sometimes I write more. Sometimes I write less. But that’s MY GOAL.
As for the size of my book, I set this based on the length of other books I had read. I liked being around 300 pages, which is about 85k words. I added some extra length to my expectations after my second book got bigger, but now the third is looking huge.
No matter what, however, it’s up to you. Set a word count goal. Don’t set a word count goal. That’s all you.
I like having goals that I can cross off so I don’t binge write and take breaks.
But again. It’s all up to you.
JUST WRITE IT
Now look, we can talk about how to write things and where to write things and how much of this that and the other thing all day every day, but at some point, you have to stop talking about it and you have to start writing it.
I say this with love, and an understanding that talking about writing is part of the process, and dreaming about your plot, and thinking about it, it’s all part of the process.
BUT AT SOME POINT, YOU HAVE TO PUT WORDS DOWN ON THE PAGE.
Break it down, figure out what chapter one is, and start writing it.
EVEN IF YOU THINK THE WORDS ARE GARBAGE.
First of all, they’re not. Second of all, this is what editing is for.
At this point, the hardest part is putting words on the page. So start adding them. Put words on the page.
And keep going until you’re done.
No turning back. No making a u-turn. Pause if you need to plot again. Take notes. Keep track of where you are.
Please Note: This post was originally published and share on Elle’s Authoring Chaos Patreon on 17 February 2022.
A NOTE : 14 February 2023
A lovely young aspiring author by way of their teacher thought I and anyone else reading this post might be interested in seeing more information about finding setting for stage plays and film! It definitely asks the very hard hitting questions you need to focus on when starting out writing and planning your work, and so I would encourage everyone to check it out! A big thank you to this student, and their youth librarian and educator, for sending this in to share with everyone! May we all glean as much from this post as you have from anything I have posted on this blog!