How to Create a Proven Plan for Writing In 12 Steps

How to create a proven plan for writing

Having a plan for writing isn’t that sexy, but it’s still a good way to spend your time.

A solid writing plan will help you figure out what you’re going to write and when. It will mitigate many of the mistakes new writers make, like creating something nobody wants to read, buy, or publish.

And your plan for writing will help you embrace the hard work of finishing a writing project and pressing publish.

This article explains how to create a writing plan, step-by-step.

Let’s dive in.

1. Identify Your Genre

Before embarking on a writing project, consider the genre in question.

If you’re writing short stories, thrillers, or other creative writing, what are the conventions of this particular genre and what do readers expect?

It’s your job to include these key elements in whatever you’re going to write. Otherwise, you risk bad reviews and rejection. Read the good and bad reviews of relevant best-sellers on Amazon for some insights.

If you’re a freelance or non-fiction writer, dig up the style guide for your target publication so you can figure out what your editor expects.

For example, a business advice article should probably include some statistics and third-party research. And a style guide will explain how to properly cite your sources.

2. Pick a Writing Goal

If you’re writing a book, embarking on a big writing project, like launching a blog or publishing a series of short stories, I recommend writing down five to seven reasons why this writing project is so important.

Include these why statements in your writing plan will help you persevere when you feel blocked, bored, or uninspired. I typically write these up as journal entries and put my answers in a file alongside the rest of the materials for the book in question.

This writing plan step is overkill for small freelance commissions, but it’s still a good idea to ask why you want to work as a freelance writer in a particular area or niche or with a certain client from time-to-time. You may be sick of writing about a particular topic and need a new challenge.

3. Pick Your Target Audience

Readers of a business publication have less time for colloquial language and color anecdotes. Similarly, book lovers who buy romantic fiction probably don’t want to read many violent scenes.

If possible, write to one person who represents your target audience rather than many. Consider their real-world interests, likes, and dislikes.

For non-fiction writers, many style guides and editorial briefs for publications include information about the ideal or target readers.

If you’re writing independently, consider interviewing an ideal reader and gauging what they like and dislike about the subject matter.

4. Brainstorm Everything You Need

A carpenter building a bookshelf will spend an hour or two getting wood, nails, glue, and other supplies before beginning construction.

If you’re writing fiction, example source materials include journal entries, photos, and random ideas in notebooks and journals.

If you’re writing non-fiction, example source materials include interviews, third-party research, stats, and case studies.

If you feel like you don’t have enough, consider brainstorming what you know about the topic at hand. I like mind mapping for this step.

Set aside time for gathering relevant source materials from the real world too.

When I wrote freelance non-fiction for Forbes, I set aside an hour or two each Friday to interview sources for my stories. I got these interviews transcribed, and they served as source materials for my articles.

5. Schedule a Time and Place for the Writing Process

A doctor doesn’t say “I will operate on my patient when I’m feeling fresh and inspired.”

Neither do professional writers.

In your writing plan, consider when you’re going to work on the piece in question and for how long. You could say, “Every morning at 07.00, I will write 500-words for a chapter in my new book, in the spare room in my apartment.”

Some writers like booking this writing time in their calendar and stick to it like a true professional!

Setting time aside for writing will also help you start writing faster and balance your writing plan with your personal life and other commitments.

It’s important to be consistent with the amount of time you spend writing each day, as it’s all but impossible to write once a week and expect meaningful results.

6. Set a Word-Count or Deadline

A target word-count for a writing project will give you something to work towards. Similarly, a deadline has a way of focusing the mind.

As a freelance writer, your editor may give you a target word-count and deadline for submitting an early draft.

If you’re writing for yourself, select a deadline and word-count goal that sounds reasonable. Put the planned session date and duration in your Google calendar with a reminder.

For example, instead of setting out to write a blog post, reframe this as, “I’m going to write and publish a 1,000-word blog post by the end of this week.”

7. Outline Your Writing Project

Several years ago, I had to write a 20,000 plus word thesis about the works of the Irish author Christy Brown.

For months, I struggled with this thesis. I just couldn’t get it to flow, and I couldn’t arrange my ideas. I told my tutor I was afraid I wouldn’t be able to finish my work. She said:

“Why don’t you approach your thesis from a different angle? Why don’t you outline it?”

I took my tutor’s advice and worked out an outline of each section and chapter using a pen and paper. I wrote down the title of each chapter on one hundred plus 6×4 index cards.

Next, I wrote down points I wanted to cover within each chapter alongside various quotes, stories, and other pieces of factual information. I laid my index cards out on a large glass table, and I spent several hours reviewing them.

If it helps, on index cards, jot down words identifying these chunks, and then rearrange these in order of how your writing project unfolds.

Authors like James Joyce and Samuel Beckett wrote without planning or structure, but even they learned what structure was before they tore it away.

This will give you an early overview of your writing project.

8. Review Your Structure

After outlining my thesis using index cards, I was able to shift from one troublesome section or chapter to another easier one, without getting lost or stressed. I could see the overall structure of my thesis, even if it wasn’t finished.

In effect, I zoomed out from my thesis and moved the chapters and ideas around the pieces on a chessboard.

I considered where I was repeating myself, what I was missing, and what I needed to cover. Then, I sorted the index cards into piles that I wanted to keep, remove, or combine.

Next, I rewrote each of the index cards, and I repeated this planning process.

I did this until I was left with a structure for my thesis that I could work with. Although the thesis changed during the course of writing and rewriting, this structure served as a light during the creative process that kept me from getting lost.

These days, I recommend using index cards to any non-fiction writer engaged in book writing.

9. Write the First Draft

The job of a first draft is simply to exist. So start writing it as soon as you can.

Don’t stop to edit yourself, fix typos, or grammar mistakes. All that can come during the editing process. The same applies to formatting, adding links, images, and so on.

While working on your first draft, plan for having a block of uninterrupted time to write. That means no email, social media, television, or other distractions.

If you’re writing fiction or engaged in exploratory writing, a writing prompt can help you warm up for a difficult first draft.

Free write if you have too (write about whatever is on your mind related to the topic at hand)

10. Let Your Writing Sit

Every plan for writing should include a gestation period. For shorter projects, this may only be a couple of hours. For longer projects, this could be several weeks.

The author Joan Didion says she leaves first drafts in her freezer for a few weeks before editing them.

Pick a gestation period based on your deadline and the size of the writing project. Sometimes good stories need a little more time.

This gestation period will help you subconsciously reflect on your writing and review it critically. You can also use this period to work on other writing projects or attend to different parts of your creative business.

Just remember to pick back up that first draft when it’s over.

11. Edit and Revise Your Drafts

The revision process is an important part of any plan for writing.

While self-editing and revising your project, focus on your core idea. Re-read the brief if it helps and consider if you wrote what you were hired for.

Whether it’s a blog post, chapter, or book, consider:

  • What angles and points can you combine or remove?
  • Are you being too technical?
  • What should this draft writing focus more on?
  • What should it ignore?
  • If an alien arrived from Mars and read your writing, could they understand it?
  • Can you sum up the piece in a single sentence?
  • If not, what’s preventing you from doing so?
  • How can you use fewer words?

I also recommend running your writing through a good grammar checker. If it’s a longer piece of work, consider hiring an editor or proofreader.

12. Format and Publish Your Work

Depending on who you’re writing for, now is the time for formatting your work for publication.

A blogger will add internal and external links, graphics for social media and other images.

A non-fiction writer will tidy up their manuscript and send it to an editor and wait till it’s live. Professional non-fiction writers will also use the gap between submitting and publishing to land other writing gigs.

An author will use a self-publishing tool like Vellum to get their book ready for distribution on Amazon and elsewhere.

The Final Word on Creating a Plan for Writing

Not every project needs a formal plan for writing that you document step-by-step.

If you’re writing a series of blog posts or articles, it’s enough to work through this plan for writing quickly in your head.

However, if you’re embarking on a longer writing project, spending half an hour creating a writing plan will increase your chances of success.

Remember, it’s normal to repeat the previous steps several times, depending on the amount of feedback you get from early readers and your editor.

The next time you are faced with an intimidating writing project, break it into chunks that you can tackle one-by-one.

This planning will also help you zoom out and see all the pieces on your chessboard. It will also help you improve your writing skills over time: practice builds competency!

Your writing project will evolve during the creative process too, but having a plan and using structure can help you get from the blank page to the last page.

Writing Plan FAQ How do I write a writing plan? Consider your genre, target audience and deadline. Break your writing project down into smaller chunks that you can tick off one-by-one. Set time aside for writing the first draft, editing and revising.

Allow a little time between writing and publishing so you can find and fix errors. For smaller writing projects, it’s enough to go through this process in your head. For larger projects, you may want to document these steps.

A Plan for Writing FAQ

How do I write a writing plan?

Consider your genre, target audience and deadline. Break your writing project down into smaller chunks that you can tick off one-by-one. Set time aside for writing the first draft, editing and revising.

Allow a little time between writing and publishing so you can find and fix errors. For smaller writing projects, it’s enough to go through this process in your head. For larger projects, you may want to document these steps.

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7 thoughts on “How to Create a Proven Plan for Writing In 12 Steps”

  1. Hi Bryan,
    Thanks for your excellent post. My biggest challenge writing for an online audience has been to reduce the ‘weight’ of my posts or articles, to simplify them. I had to learn a whole new style of writing that was very foreign to me at first, but I hope I’m getting better.

    You’ll be glad to hear I didn’t skim. I read from beginning to end, but I did stumble over the phrase ‘One hot summer’s day in Dublin’. I’m still struggling to picture that!

    Cheers, Mel

  2. HI Mel,
    I wrote this post a while back, I guess it must have been an unusual day in Dublin! I get why you want to reduce the weight of your posts or simplify them. It’s always a challenge to say something clearly and succinctly without losing the knowledge you want to provide in the posts. One writer who does this very well is James Clear.

  3. Anthony Metivier

    Great stuff.

    Once upon a time, I had all the points for my dissertation on about 300 index cards. I removed all the furniture from the living room and laid them out on the floor.

    Over about two weeks, I ordered them into chapters. Then I started typing them out into a kind of outline with a lot of paragraphs. The rest kind of fell into place.

    Don’t get me wrong. My dissertation is not the greatest work of scholarship on the planet and I’d probably puke if I had to read it. But this approach got it done quite fast and in an organized manner.

    As for the Joyce quote, he must of said that before he tried waking of Finnegan. 😉

    1. Hi Anthony,

      The writer Robert Greene does something similar with index cards when he’s researching his books. I like using paper, index cards and so on during the early stages of the creative process as it’s less inhibiting that a digital too.

      I hope all is well with you.

      Chat soon.

  4. Hi Bryan

    Thanks for the terrific post. Excellent choice of words.

    I’ve taken your advice about the index cards but I have no where to pin them. So I decided a hardcover A4 book would serve just as well.

    I got stuck on chapter two of my psychological thriller that I’m writing, until I did your FINISH course and that’s when the penny fell into the right slot. I finally realised the same thing as you. I had toooooo many ideas rambling through my head.

    Since finishing your course I’ve reduced and simplified each of my chapters and I’ve increased my word count. Amazing! I’m now halfway through my novel 60 000 words done. Oh I know its the first messy draft but that’s okay. I only had 5000 by chapter two. Now look and behold what simple motivation can do when determination, imagination and ‘keeping my hand’moving has accomplish.

    Thank you for your great blog posts and your course.

    Staying connected

    1. Hi Beth,
      I’m glad to hear you’ve made so much progress with your book and that the course helped.

      If you’ve nowhere to pin your index cards you could take a similar approach to Anthony and lay then out on your floor. That said, if an A4 books works then go with that.

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