Thursday 12 March 2015

To plan or not to plan....

When I was at high school, I was frustrated during English classes as my teacher told me how I should be writing. We had to write a detailed plan, then a draft, followed by a 'good' copy that would be submitted. Along the way, the teacher wanted to see the plan and draft, in that order. The plan had to match the draft, which had to match the 'good' copy. If it didn't, then we would be marked down.

This never worked for me. I would quickly write a draft, then the plan, so my first draft was actually my second draft. If I tried to write the plan first, the draft would never match as the story would always take me in another direction.

There were other kids in my class who loved this method, and it was the only way they could write.

My 13 year old is having similar struggles at school with his English teacher and finds it hard to write a plan that will satisfy his teacher before writing the story. On the other hand, my 11 year old finds the plan very helpful and, generally, once he has a plan, the story comes easily.

In the last few years, I've found that having a rough plan works for me. I like to have an idea of where the story is going and where it will end, but it's not a detailed plan by any means. I have friends who can't start a story without the most detailed of plans including character profiles and maps of the world they are creating. I also have friends who just start to to write and follow the words wherever the story takes them.

One thing I've learned is that we need to do what works for us. It takes time and practice to find out the method that works best. If planning works, that's great. If something else works, that's great too. There is no "one size fits all" formula that works for everyone.

As I write, this, I'm in the middle of writing the first draft of my next chapter book. I know how long I want it to be and have an idea of where I want the story to go. It's exciting to see where the story is leading me, already it's starting to take a slightly different shape to the story I started with. This method works for me. What works for you?

Melissa Gijsbers lives in Melbourne and writes in between working as a bookkeeper and being the mother of two active boys. She is a blogger and author of flash fiction and children's books. Her first book, Swallow Me, NOW! is now available.

Follow her writing journey at


  1. Thanks for sharing Melissa. Like yoy, I find that having a rough plan is best with room for changes. Unlike the more inspired of us - I don't think I could ever write a full novel without some thorough planning. For shorter writings - like blogs - usually I go where the Spirit leads and have lots of fun in the process. Thanks for your interesting post.

  2. Thanks for your post Melissa. So true that one sized doesn't fit all. I'm what James Scott Bell calls a "tweener" I like to have some major plot points or signposts more or less in place, like the beginning, the end and some major turning points along the ways but don't work to a detailed plan. A lot of fun things can emerge in the process of writing.

  3. Thanks Melissa. I think I'm more like you. I'm in between a plotter and a pantser. I like to have a general idea of where I'm heading, but I like the story to also emerge. At the moment I'm attempting to write a fairly complicated parallel narrative novel and I've found I have to do more planning with that because there are lots of threads and secrets that have to match up, along with historical detail. But I still let some of the ideas emerge while writing the scenes. It would drive me nuts if it all had to be planned first. I think you've made an important point about different styles suiting different people. If we try to fit people into our 'writing box' that just might not work for them. Thanks for sharing :)

  4. I'm so glad I'm not the only one who's inbetween :) It's often fun to see where the story will go as it goes, even if it doesn't always turn out the way I want it to.

  5. I guess it helps if one has an ordered mind. However I'm a Tweener who would like to be a Plotter, but most of the time I work as a Pantser and go where my characters take me. I do have to know them well, though. Otherwise the writing comes to a halt if they slip out of character. Um, except for those times when they actually do this . Usually like we do...when we're upset. Isn't it great when they lead down all those twists and turns?

  6. Hi Melissa,
    It's a good question. I'm a half-and-half myself. I like to get the basic framework of a plot set in my head, but there's always room for some pantser type of inspiration.

  7. Hi Melissa,
    I'm both... sort of! I am definitely a planner when writing a novel (although I rarely knowing exactly how the ending will look - I like to keep that a surprise for myself!). But when it comes to writing short stories, like we did and children still do in class today, I hate planning. I like to explore a character, find out about them along the way, and have the story totally write itself. It's so much fun to write this way! But writing like this for a novel, for me, is too much of a time waster. I have to know what is coming and when, or the structure will be totally out of whack and require major editing.
    I guess that's why I still write both novels and short stories.