Wednesday, November 4, 2009

Writing With A Purpose

If you don't know where you are going, you will end up some place you don't want to be. I heard this from a motivational speaker and, I am sure, like many of you, there were doubts. I honestly thought that "maybe I will end up in a really cool place", or "maybe because I don't have a planned route, I will see things I might have missed." And then it hit me... MAYBE.

As a writer, you have to know where you are going to with your story. While I am a big fan of simply writing each day, if you are working on your actual manuscript, you have to have a plan.

I am bringing this up because a friend of mine is particpating in the Write a Novel In a Month program, or whatever that acronym is. She is so excited about this program because she now has deadlines to get the material finished. When I talked to her about it, she openly said that yes, she may well end up with 50+ K of pure drivel in the end, and yes, she will likely have a huge amount of editing to do with this.

And there lies the problem.

If she is taking 1 month to write the story and then will take the next 4-5 months fixing the huge problems with the story, this is the problem. This is really an issue when she could have done the whole thing in 2 months shorter and done it right the first time.

I have told my son the same thing. I ask him to clean his room and he just shoves things under the bed. When I send my 4 year old up to clean out the mess under his bed (she calls it exploring) he gets really frustrated because he has to clean the room "again". As I tell him, if he would have done it right the first time, we wouldn't have to do this again.

Look, I am not going to tell everyone to 100% outline the entire book chapter by chapter. What I will tell you is that you better know the beginning, middle and the end. You better know the major points throughout the story. You need to know the conflicts internally for the characters and externally for the plot, and more importantly, how the characters are going to fix it.

Daily, you need to know what the goal of that piece of writing is. No, word count is not it. What is going to be accomplished in the story by the end of your writing time.

Do this and you won't have to backtrack.



  1. It helps me to keep a loose leaf binder with a page for each scene and sequel for whatever book I'm writing at the time. That is my first step for every manuscript. Once that is accomplished I don't have to know where I'm headed and I can work on any part of the book I'd like to on any given day. I got the idea from Jack Bickham's book Style and Structure -- except he advised using index cards.

  2. In the GRE word of the day for Nov 3rd. The listed description for inventive wasn't very clever

  3. Hi Murphy, where have you been? Good catch btw.:) Are you doing nano?

  4. Excellent blog, Scott. I totally agree that stories need to be planned. I think you need a little movement within the plan, but it's the best way to start. Thanks for confirming that I'm doing something right. Now to work on everything else :)

  5. CJ...
    It is great you found a strategy that works for you. Keep it up.


  6. Murphy,

    Sorry about the GRE word. I don't pick 'em.


  7. Melissa,

    Movement is always important when it comes to the story. Don't ever get to the point where your story stalls and we just watch non-action. The story should always be heading toward that conclusion.

  8. Well, I was right there with you... until the very last line. Damn.

    Even with the most careful planning (outlines, character arcs, in-depth physical location reviews and pictures, etc) you have to backtrack if your MCs call you to it.

    Sometimes a character trait doesn't show itself until halfway through the book. And then guess what you're doing? Yep. Backtracking.

    Other than that - I agree. Which is why, even for my NaNo book I have an outline (a very detailed outline I might add).

    Great post, Scott!