I’m blogging a series that I’m calling “Stop Thinking About Writing…And Just Write!” Thinking about writing is easy. When I mention that I’m a writer, people often say, “Oh, I’ve thought about writing a book.” My encouragement to anyone who has had that thought is, stop thinking that. Just do it. Writing can be difficult but it’s worth it to give it a try. So here are some of my thoughts on the process. Six thoughts, actually. The first was Write Every Day. Next…
#2: Write With a Plan
Know where you’re headed. I always like to approach life with a plan, so that I can then ignore it while reminding myself that at least I have one if I need it. That’s my basic approach to writing, too. I love outlines. I have loved them since I first learned how to make them. I love how neat and tidy they look with all their indents and subsections. Outlines are my go-to writing plan. I’ve used them forever, for every kind of writing I do. If I have an outline, I have something to work from. It gives me confidence and a sense of accomplishment. When setting out on a journey, it is important to know where you are going. It is perfectly acceptable to amble around with no real plan or purpose, discovering new places and things along the way. However, if your intention is to start in one place and get to another, you should have a general idea of how you’re going to make that happen. If you’re on a hike or a road trip or going somewhere for the first time, you need a map, or at least directions. If you’re writing, you need an outline, or a cork board or a brainstorming bubble, or something that is leading you where you want to go. Make yourself a map before you start your writing journey. Some of the stops along the way may surprise you, but knowing your ultimate destination will help you keep your focus.
Be willing to take detours. Planning is important, but the actual writing is much more important. It’s when you write that your creativity really begins to flow. It may take you places you didn’t expect to go, and that’s okay. Be willing to explore the side trails your minds takes you on. You may get lost and have to retrace your steps, but you might also find new adventures you never expected. Don’t be afraid to get caught up in your writing and let your mind take you into new territory. A lot of writers tend to write the same things over and over. I’ve written almost the exact same scene, with completely different characters, in at least two books. I’m talking almost verbatim, with dialogue and everything, and I didn’t do it intentionally. A favorite author of mine growing up repeated the same storyline in at least four different fiction series. I read and enjoyed almost everything he wrote, but I remember thinking, “Oh, we’re doing this one again? Really?” If you always stick to the same plan or formula for writing, you may get overly repetitive. Ask yourself new questions. Explore new approaches to a scene or character. Try something you’ve never done before. Even better, try something you refuse to do. If the idea of trekking off into new writing territory makes you nervous, remember that you have a plan. If you veer off to far and don’t like the direction you’re heading, abandon that idea or thought trail and come back to the plan. No writing is ever wasted, even if it never sees the light of day. It’s just practice, and we all need more of that. We don’t get better at writing by thinking about writing, or even by reading about writing. We improve with practice. At the end of the day, it’s better to write something that ends up in the trash than to not write anything at all.
Don’t lose sight of the goal. Is your goal big? Does it scare you? If so, good. If not, that’s okay too. You don’t have to have a big scary goal, but you have to have a goal. Once you have it clear in your mind, keep it in front of you. Write it down. Talk about it. You don’t have to make it the topic of every conversation (because soon most people won’t want to talk to you) but mention it. Elaborate if people ask. Don’t hide your dreams in your heart. Get them out there. Some people won’t understand, some might laugh, but some will be encourage you along the way and a few might even help you. I write my dreams in pink ink. Those pink letters encourage me to keep learning, keep growing, keep working. PinkDreamInk is so important to me that I made it into a brand and adopted it into my image. What about you? Are your dreams hidden away in a dusty corner of your life, or have you put them out for people to see? Don’t let fear keep them hidden. Bring them out, dust them off, breathe life into them, and see what happens next.
In some ways, an outline or writing plan is like a goal. If you have a plan and you know what you’re working toward, you can track your progress as you get there. Even if you deviate from the plan, it’s still there, keeping you accountable, reminding you of your ultimate destination, your end goal. You can break down your plan and get a good idea for how many scenes or chapters or words you need to write every day or every week in order to meet your deadline. If this sounds too structured for you, if all your feelings resist the idea of boxing yourself in like that, I encourage you to try it anyway. If you find after a month or two that it does, in fact, stifle your writing, you can go back to exercising your creativity freely and without restraint. More power to you. If you’re anything like me, however, you may find that a little planning on the front end goes a long way toward giving you the vision to get to your ending. You can thank me for that later. For now … just write.