How to Plan Your Book: Part 1

November is only a month away, which for many means NaNoWriMo. In case you’ve never heard of it, NaNoWriMo is National Novel Writing Month. The aim is –during the month of November—for you to “write that book” you’ve been thinking about or talking about. Needless to say, this is easier said than done and many authors don’t respond to that kind of intensity –especially if they’re not in the habit of writing every day or if they don’t know what they want to write. Whether you’re doing NaNoWriMo or just writing a novel or book at your own pace, apply these planning tips for a better guarantee of success.

Answer the Question of ‘Why Am I Writing?’

The more you understand about why you’re writing, the more focused your writing will be, and the easier it will be to push past writers block when it invariably comes up. You can look back at your initial query and say, “Okay, this is my purpose, so how do I move forward in a purposeful manner?” This question –believe it or not—applies to fiction and nonfiction authors alike.


Where in the world is this story going?

I’ll give you an example. I was recently working on a short story for a travel site. Initially, I thought I wanted to tell a ghost story. As it turns out, I was really writing a story about a dysfunctional mother / daughter relationship. This was a story where I let the situation write itself, as recommended by Stephen King in On Writing. I didn’t bother with a lot of plotting and planning, which Mr. King is not a fan of (though, I am because it works better for me to have a road map).

Of course, even the pantiest pansters (people who wing it, for those not in the lingo) have some kind of understanding of the story they’re going to tell.

They also, whether they acknowledge it or not, know what their goals are. Here are some goals that you might have:

  • I want to make a lot of money with this book / story / make a living as a writer
  • I want to scare the living daylights out of my readers
  • I want to share knowledge about a topic in which I’m an expert
  • I want to entertain and inform
  • I want to tell a story that I love and am proud of
  • I want to write because I can't imagine doing anything else

Be honest with yourself about what you really want even if you’re kind of ashamed of it or if you’re embarrassed that your friends might judge your goals. Who cares if you want to make a ton of money by writing a commercial success or if all you want is to write something that makes you happy? It’s your book. Some of the best advice I can pass along is to write what you know. That came from Carolyn Haines.

Don’t devalue yourself, your creativity, or your experience.  There is always someone else doing what you’re doing, and they’re doing it differently than how you’re going to do it. Mind, different doesn’t mean better. You have something important to offer, but you’ll never offer it if you don’t do it.

Know Who You’re Writing For

Unless you’re writing for yourself and you never plan to let your writing see the light of day, you need to know who you’re writing for.  Stephen King recommends in On Writing to –after the first draft, anyway—envision that number one fan you’re writing for (in his case, it’s his wife). Imagine their reactions to your writing. Ask how you can make that better.

When I write nonfiction, like this blog, I ask if I’m adding value. Are people learning or am I just writing a bunch of fluff? Hopefully, you’re getting concrete information that you can take back to your word processor and put into action.

Here are a few ways to get to know your audience:

  • Be your audience. It’s difficult to write a romance novel when you’re really a mystery reader and don’t read romance because you don’t know what romance readers really want. So, be your audience. Read what your audience reads, and write what your audience reads.
  • This goes for nonfiction writers as well. If you’re a finance guru, read other finance books. What’s missing in the marketplace? What do you offer that’s unique? How can you fill the void?
  •  Read the comments’ sections of reviews. What do people say about these books? Look at negative and positive reviews alike to see what audiences like and dislike or to see what’s missing. Do they love an author’s style? Format? Narrative voice? What’s not working?

I recently read reviews for a romance trilogy. Readers loved the story, but they were furious that the author broke the story into three parts because…well, the three parts made up the one story. They felt it was a cheap ploy to make sales. Oops. Even if your goal is to make money, keep in mind that all audiences want value. I have a feeling if this author had kept her story united, she’d have a lot more loyal and trusting readers than she does right now.

Determine How & Where Your Writing Will be Published


When it comes to how and where your writing will be published, most writers immediately say, “Oh, a book,” or, “an e-Book,” because those are the most typical formats; however, there are other formats. What about a podcast or an audiobook (or those in addition to your book or e-Book? What about an app? Would audiences prefer to engage with your work one chapter at a time? What outside-of-the-box methods are other writers in your area embracing, and how can you approach your project with a similar attitude?

If this all sounds a little basic, that’s because it is. These are the fundamentals that some beleaguered soul (hopefully) tried to impart upon you in an EH 101 composition class. These understandings apply to all styles of writing from the most mundane report to the liveliest thriller. It might sound unromantic to a novelist to try to establish these understandings about one’s story; however, the romanticized image we have of authors and writers sitting down and magically producing a brilliant manifesto is fiction. You could do better, so why don’t you?

The more you understand about writing, the better you will be at doing it. If you aren’t sure how to get started, get a mentor or a writing coach who can show you the ropes. Just like riding a bicycle, once you figure out what you’re doing, you’ll be taking on bigger and bolder challenges, sticking with it long and longer, and all around impressing yourself. It’s not a matter of if you can do it; it’s a matter of when you will.