Top Tips: How To Plan Your Book

We’ve asked writing mentor and author Lis McDermott to give her views on how to plan your book. Read her top tips in this article.
To help aspiring authors, we’ve asked writing mentor and author Lis McDermott to give her views on how to plan your book. Firstly, let’s look at why planning helps.

Reasons to start with a plan for your book:

• It helps you to get clarity on your ideas, deciding what you’re writing and who it’s for.
• It gives you a start point for the writing, making it easier to break it down into smaller chunks to work on.
• It helps you identify any gaps in your knowledge, giving you tips for further research.
• It helps you to get organised, laying out the chapters as part of the plan.

Planning your book starts with a series of questions. You can answer them in any order you wish. However, these are the fundamental choices you need to be clear about before you start writing. As Lis points out, there are six steps which help form your plan:

Step 1: Why are you writing this book?

Some authors struggle to articulate why they’re writing their book. Having the reason clear in your mind will help you on the days when writing gets tricky. You can go back to your purpose and revitalise your thinking by re-reading this plan though. Are you writing simply for the accomplishment of finishing your book? Are you writing to bring a particular theme alive in fiction? Or are you writing to share your non-fiction knowledge?

Step 2: What are you writing?

Are you writing a memoir, a novel or a non-fiction book? And why have you chosen this particular genre? Some authors take the material of a memoir and then turn it into a novel rather than keeping it as a traditional memoir. Other authors set out to write a non-fiction guide to their topic, but then find it’s more practical to turn the book into a workbook with exercises. These can engage the reader and encourage them to return regularly to the book. Whatever you want to write, be clear upfront so that you don’t cause yourself re-work later.

Step 3: Which audience are you writing for?

You need to decide who you’re writing for and why the book will appeal to them or how it will help them. This helps you to keep the language appropriate for their age (especially important if you’re writing for children and teens) and to use a style that they’ll enjoy. Is your audience keen on a particular genre? Or are they interested in hearing your story to help them to make a specific change in their life?

Step 4: When do you want to publish your book?

If you’ve got a specific date in mind, you need to make time to write and leave enough time for the publishing process. Writing to a schedule doesn’t work for some creative writers. So, as an author, you need to decide whether you’ll write when the mood takes you or whether you’re fixing time every day or every week to write. Preparing yourself to write can also involve choosing some mood-lifting activities which will inspire you to write. For instance, a walk outside; singing; reading other people’s books; drawing and colouring in; watching an inspiring TV show - anything to help your brain relax and be creatively ready to write.

Step 5: Set out the chapters

Designing a chapter plan gives you a framework for writing your book. If you think of other sections to add, they can always go in later as part (b) to the original list of chapters. Each chapter needs a rough title, but you can adapt the headline when it comes to the writing stage.

Step 6: Get to know your characters

In fiction, you’ll need to plan out who your key characters are, and how they behave and interact with each other. Think about what they look like, how they dress, what they’ve experienced and the events which will happen to them. Creating a story arc for their life gives you an opportunity to hold back some of the events for future books, perhaps developing them into a series.

As bonus tips, here are some things to watch out for with your first book:

Repetitive words can easily creep into your writing (like "so" "actually" "however" and "really") - therefore, it’s worth checking through your work for these or else your editor will pick them up if you don’t spot them.

Beware of repetitive paragraphs of description too. In his book On Writing Stephen King warns about not leaving enough to the reader’s imagination. As he says, the trick is to find a happy medium rather than over-description which buries the reader in details and images, or thin description which leaves them bewildered.

Lis says, "In preparation for my own writing, I find it helps to start the old-fashioned way using pen and paper, so I always keep a notebook nearby to jot down any ideas. The other essential tools are post-it notes (useful for splitting ideas across a chapter plan) and a ringbinder with a sheet per chapter to stick the post-its into the order of the book. Then it’s time to get writing!"

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