A few weeks ago I wrote a post detailing the different phases of the writing process. Today, I want to focus on the first two phases of the process. Primarily, I want to ask the question, when should you stop planning and start writing? Unfortunately, there is no hard and fast rule to answer this question. I can’t provide a fixed amount of time that is ideal and I can’t give you a formula to figure it out. Every writer will require a different amount of planning. Although there is no right or wrong answer to this question, there are some things you can take into account when deciding how much planning your writing project will take.
The Pantser to Plotter Spectrum
A lot of writers consider themselves either pantsers or plotters. That is, they either write by the seat of their pants with no plan, or they have a carefully devised plot before they begin writing. However, I don’t think that it is a simple as creating a dichotomy between the two. Almost all writers will fall somewhere in between. It is important that you are aware of where you prefer to be on this spectrum. Here are some questions you can ask yourself to figure out where you fall.
- What do you enjoy more, revising or planning?
- If you don’t plot, then you will spend a lot of time in the revising phase, which will not be fun if revising is your least favorite part of the process
- How organized are you?
- Someone who is more organized may be more inclined to create a plan for their story.
- How long do you think about a story before committing to completing it?
- Writers who have a harder time committing to a story, often feel more confident if they have a plan going in.
- Do you use a planner, or go about your day one step at a time?
- If you plan out your day, you probably will want to plan out your writing.
- How do you feel about surprises?
- Although surprises will appear in your story no matter how much planning you do, you will have a lot more of them if you don’t plan. Some people are excited by this, but others will be concerned for their story structure.
Depending on how you answered these questions, you should get a feeling for where you sit on the spectrum. (In case you’re curious, I tend to fall very close to the plotter side.)
Size of the Project
This one is somewhat obvious. There are a ton of different story lengths you could be working with. You might be writing flash fiction, a short story, novella, or a novel. The shorter the story, the simpler it tends to be and the less planning it will require. If you are writing a series, you will need to have an overarching story arc across all of the books. This will require more planning than a standalone. It’s a good idea to have an idea of at least the ending as you write so that there is cohesion to your story. Knowing where you are aiming is better than a shot in the dark.
The fact of the matter is, whether you chose to plot or dive right into a story and see what happens, doing the latter will require more writing time, and even more editing time. If this isn’t something you are willing to do (i.e. if there is an impending deadline), then you may want to spend more time one the planning portion.
Does your story take place in this one, or one you are inventing? If you are creating a story that takes place in an alternative world, you will need more time for planning your story. The further the world is from our own, the more planning it will require. For example, a post-apocalyptic Boston won’t take as much time as a mythical realm that you, yourself are inventing. Why? The foundation of logic already laid when you are working with an existing world. Before you ever start writing, the logic of the world in which your story will operate has to be pinned down because it will affect every action, motive, and value your characters encounter. The world you set your story is a foothold that readers grab onto, and if it doesn’t operate in consistent manner, the reading will become too laborious and they will probably abandon your story.
This is definitely not all of the things that you should look at when deciding how much planning your story will require, but I hope it’s a good start. What do you think about when you’re asking this question? Are you consistent as a writer, or does it vary from project to project? Let me know in the comments below!