Yesterday I went to the grocery store so my toddlers could make cake. You may be thinking, wait what? Isn’t this a writing website? How did I end up on a recipe site?…but bare with me, because this will help explain something that so many struggle with.
So I was at the grocery store buying ingredients for a cake. We got there, and I had no list, no way to work out where I was going and what I was buying. We meandered down isles and my children pointed out cheese and crackers. “Cheese and crackers!” They exclaimed, or more, I want cheese and grunts, because none of them are verbal enough for much else. We brought cheese and crackers. Then I remembered the cake.
They wanted a specific cake, a big round yellow cake.
So we got eggs and some flour. Then I couldn’t remember what else went into a cake, so we picked up icing, and milk and butter just in case.
After all the hard work they got restless, they yelled and screamed and wanted to go “this way!” And off they went to look for juice for tomorrow’s adventure. We got juice; we threw other random items in the cart.
At the end of a very long trip, of pulling out my hair and wrestling the kids apart, we finally had our ingredients paid for and headed home.
At home we threw all the ingredients in a bowl and waited for the cake to cook. It came out misshapen, tasteless, and far too big.
What does my grocery store journey have to do with you as a writer?
Well, when I talk to a lot of writers who want to be authors they tell me; hey I want to write a YA novel. Or in other words, I want a big yellow cake. Then they run to their desk and start writing (to the grocery store!).
They know a YA has teenage aspects so they throw a couple of teenagers in (eggs and flour). But then their characters (kids) rebel, “they don’t want to be a YA,” they scream, they want to go to space and turn into a sci-fi, or have love interests that come out of no-where. They want things their way! (cheese and crackers)
After a while of following them you realize you have to get back on point. So you throw in more plot points you know should be there, in no particular order. (Icing, milk, butter) But then everyone gets restless. “Maybe this story isn’t working?” You ask, “maybe something else is more exciting to write.” So you come up with your next adventure. (You grab juice for tomorrow). New ideas for new stories hit you left and right.
But wait, wait, you’re being frivolous. You must rally the troupes and finish your story.
By now your drained, and it isn’t fun anymore, you’re pulling out your hair. Maybe you actually finish the ingredients, or the rough draft. But it’s far too long, it veers off in all directions, in most places it doesn’t make sense. It’s misshapen, bland and far to long.
Now you have to do the re-writes. Except this time you know what you should do (you hope) because you’ve already gotten some of it right! You write the scenes and they start to shine, but it’s a looot of work. Not only are you writing a whole rough draft again, but now you’re dissecting and editing at the same time.
What if I told you to just bring a grocery list the first time?
Would you tell me that’s too boring? That you prefer the excitement? That it stifles your creativity? What if I told you to write a plot? Would you tell me the same thing? Here’s the thing you guys, plotting. isn’t. boring. It’s not about boxing yourself into one outcome, it’s about knowing what sort of plot points go where. It’s about knowing which isle to go down or direction to go, not what you will find there.
Whether you write the whole thing then fix it, or you write a plan then write it, you’re
Still. freaking. Plotting.
I don’t care who you are, a plotter, a panster or in-between, at some point you conceive a plot. Whether it’s before, after, or during, you will find your plot somehow, someway, or the book will fail.
Why You Should Plot!
I hear this a lot… “oh I can’t write my story,” “I keep getting stuck,” “nothing sounds right!” Here’s one way to know your story will work before you put countless hours into it. Make a plot, just a few points on a page that lead you from point a-b-c-d-e-g-etc. Here’s some things this will do for you;
- Reduce writers block
- Allow you to add in teasers/foreshadowing
- Reduce your stress
- Allow you to write more during your writing phase
The thing is, if you actually want to hit deadlines it’s something you’ll have to do. Any business is the same! You wouldn’t walk into a meeting and tell someone you want to sell toasters, and when they ask you how you’re going to do that say, “well I’ll just wing it!” Right!? It’s the same for writing.
Take yourself seriously and write an actionable plan, AKA a plot.
Do you have to follow this plot to the letter? Absolutely not! If inspiration strikes and veers off in another direction but it makes sense, great! You can revise your plot and keep going. But what happens if you sit down one day and have written yourself into a corner and only have a month left until your deadline? Ouch. Yeah, not such a great idea now is it.
Get a plot now and whether you stick to it or not, it’s kind of like an insurance plan to your book.
You need to be productive and actually get it done. There’s a statistic that says you are 42% more likely to complete your goal if you write it down. That’s because when you set up the steps to reach it, all you have to do is follow through. You can’t forget or get side tracked, you can’t go off in another direction. You trust in yourself and follow out the plan to completion. It takes off a lot of pressure.
As with any business, and as a writer you are a business, you need actionable steps. Steps you take to reach your goals. If you tell yourself you need a beginning and in that beginning you need to show you ‘before snapshot’? Well, when it comes to writing day you know what you will write about. You don’t need to hinder your creativity by writing exactly what you will write, just a short guideline that helps to push you in the right direction.
Plotting Now Means Selling First
Did you know you could sell your book concept before you even write it? Yup, you don’t have to waste a year on this book for every agent to say, blah! Next! Plot out your story and then write a synopsis based on the plot. Send out the appropriate documents to a publisher/agent and wait for the responses. If you get a green light great! You haven’t wasted any time.
Isn’t that way more streamlined? Seriously, you just saved yourself years off your life. Congrats. haha.
Not only will you be able to write this synopsis but picture this…
You’ll spot a plot hole a mile off because you’ve already imagined this book! Without draining your creativity because, you know, it’s just a skeleton. If something will not work, you’ll know about it now before wasting months of your life writing.
All Plots are the Same
Mind. Freaking. Blown!
Every great story follows the same plot line, did you know that? You can break apart every great novel and they all hit the same plot points around the same percentage of book. This means by 2% into the book, most authors have completed writing about the ‘snapshot’ or what the place the character is currently in. For Harry Potter this would be living under the stairs, for the movie Frozen this would be Elsa’s magic before it all went wrong.
Imagine if I could give you the exact formula that told you what to write when? Not the exact thing you will write, but the general idea, so you know your story will actually work? Sounds really cool right? And it’s actually a thing!
This is called plot points, or beats…
My course How to Plot Your Story in 5 Days breaks these down into percentages and gives you the formula in a way that doesn’t hinder your creativity, but leads you down the path to an amazing novel. Which is why I’m super excited about it, because so many people have told me how much they are struggling not only with productivity, but knowing what to write when, and how to create a great story that people will enjoy.
All plots are the same, there’s a quote that says
This is because, we don’t literally steal other people’s ideas, we just have to understand what works for people and copy that.
Creating happy readers (or customers) and a happy career as a writer, is so important. Wouldn’t it be great to feel fulfilled as a writer?
Want some inspiration to plot?
Grab these 50 watercolor prompt cards that help you develop twists in your scenes.
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How do you plot your stories? Do you disagree with any of my points? I’d love your input!