Simple Habits

One of the hardest things about writing is when we hit our midway stretch and we realise that other than the idea or two, and the characters names, we’ve got no notion on how to keep the momentum going. Most writers will tell you, they’ve all experienced this at one point or another.

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These writers will also tell you that in order to keep going, they developed several ‘survival’ mechanisms. In other words, they learned how to organise and plan before they ever typed their opening sentence. Some writers will claim that such notions interfere with the creative process. Either way, a writer must find their own path to successfully finishing their writing projects.

For me, I have found these things essential for my story planning:

  • Record or index cards to plan my scenes. This is traditionally an old screenwriter’s trick, and a niffy way of visualising the whole story without having to write it in its entirety first.
  • Use a chapter content page: This is a simplified planning method as well as great way of figuring out how you want to pace your story. I also find it’s a useful way of summarising my notes too. Instead of having to wade through pages of information, and index cards every time I need a memory jolt, I use the content page as a quick reminder. Under each chapter heading you can have bullet points with italicised key words and names with basic directions on what is to be included and covered in that chapter. If you are writing a non-fiction book, the chapter content page is the blueprint for all your planning and research.
  • Additional characters’ bios: Let’s face it, we often know our leading characters inside out. One of the ways in which we were introduced was through the character’s bio. Sadly, members of our supporting cast are often ignored. This may not matter if they are well drawn and help tell the story, but sometimes they can be surprisingly flat, even identical. Most of the times this is down to the first draft woes; lousy dialogue, description heavy scenery, in other words the usual structural weakness all first drafts suffer from. If after re-drafting, these supporting characters are still flat, or indistinguishable, you may want to consider writing their bios: Learning a thing or two about their past, hobbies, traumas, special moments, favourite colour, clothing, lost love, etc, while asking these questions; Are they intelligent? Honest? Sneaky? Prejudice? Openminded? Conservative, liberal, libertine, or apathetic? And how do these experiences and perceptions affect their interactions with others publicly and privately. A paragraph, or one side of an A4 sheet of paper is all that’s necessary depending on what you need in order to rewrite them into stronger, more rounded characters. Of course, their presence could just be superfluous to the story, in which case you must get rid of them. If their witty one liners are so great, then evict them from your current story, keeping them safely tucked away in your files. Their story may still be gestating, have patient and don’t be wasteful and disingenuous. You will regret it.

You don’t have to write every single day in order to become a good writer, but you must be consistent, and this is where the planning comes in. It allows you to live, maintain a tidy house, well stocked refrigerator and work at your day job without losing track of the story you are currently writing. The planning and notes can also give you the confidence to trust your instinct.

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