Why It Makes Sense to Plan Your Book First

There's value in building your book’s foundation first, even if your preferred style is to just “get the words out on the page.” Planning doesn't have to squelch creativity. 

Two different styles of writers: Pantsers & Plotters

Pantsers comes from “fly by seat of pants”—just getting your words onto the page.Freewriting: the proverbial "shitty first draft," memorialized by Anne Lamott in Bird by Bird . Some writers do find their story, their message by writing first.

Plotters plan out the PLOT or the trajectory of their book. Some  like to plan out every detail in advance. They like to know exactly where going before they write a single word so then they just have to execute.

In my experience, the style of writer usually mimics their personality style. If you are familiar with the Myers-Briggs personality test, take a look at the fourth set of personality pairs: “Js” & Ps—judging and perceiving. J’s prefer more structure—they're the plotters, and Ps are more comfortable with the unknown. They'd be the pansters.

 Which kind of writer are you?


National Novel Writing Month starts November 1. On that day. hundreds of housands of people around the world will start their journey of writing 50,000 words of a novel  (or a memoir, or really any kind of book they want to write), which is the length of a short book or a good way into a typical novel. To write that much in 30 days? That's a lot of writing.

There are two common approaches to NANOWRIMO. The first—have a basic idea and just free-write every day and figure out what it all means later—or not. The second approach is planning your book out in advance, even having a detailed outline, and then writing from that outline/

I did my first (and so far only)  NANOWRIMO STORY in 2012. On November 8th that year, a friend told me about the middle-grade historical fiction book she was working on based on her Texas and Louisiana family history.  A shot of envy went through me. I'd love to do NANOWRIMO someday, but it's too late this year. Then an inner voice nudged me: It’s not too late.  I decided to trust that inner voice (she's pretty much never steered me wrong), and I went for it. I had a germ of an idea of something I wanted to write about: my late father’s ability to find joy despite diagnosis of early-onset Parkinson’s. That was my starting point and I just wrote every day.

So much good came out of my NANOWRIMO experience:

  • I learned the discipline of putting my butt in the chair
  • I overcame “writer's block” since I was committed to getting a certain number of words on the page every day
  • I let my creativity, my muse, lead my writing, and she led me down some paths I never would have imagined, including discovering a school desegregation case that went to Supreme Court from my own hometown, New Rochelle, NY.

So I "pantsed'" through NANOWRIMO.

But there were downsides too:

  • I wrote 50,000 words without connection or cohesion.
  • I didn’t have a plan to move forward.
  • I never wrote that book, although I have used bits and pieces in my writing since.

There is a better way: Structure + Freedom

If I ever did NANOWRIMO again, I’d do it differently.

There are processes that give you structure plus freedom to create within that structure.

Structure provides the boundaries you need so you are not just writing random stuff—but your structure should be flexible enough to allow your creativity to go where it wants to go!.

Roots and wings is another way to express this idea. The best process gives you roots to put a stake in the ground about your writing project and it gives you wings so you can fly where your creativity takes you.

Blueprint for a Book

Blueprint for a Book, developed by book coach Jennie Nash, is one process I use with my private book coaching clients.

The Blueprint combines the best of both worlds: it builds the foundation of your book and leaves room for creativity). It helps writers find their stories first so they can write forward with confidence.

Here are the 13 steps of the Blueprint: 

#1: YOUR WHY: understand your deep why for writing this book - and why now

#2: YOUR POINT What’s main point you want to make? What’s main takeaway for reader?

#3: KILLER SENTENCE (aka ELEVATOR PITCH): When people ask you what your book is about, what will you say?

#4: JACKET COPY: The blurb you find on the book jacket on a hardback book or on the back cover of a paperback - this exercise helps you imagine your book in the world the way a reader would.

#5: TITLE: Choosing a title helps you focus your idea, even if you change your title a zillion times (like I have with my memoir!).

#6: STRUCTURE: Qhat kind of book are you writing? Memoir, self-help, some hybrid/combo of the two?

#7: CRUCIAL QUESTIONS TO ANSWER for each type of structure.

#8: THE OUTCOME OUTLINE: A powerful outlining tool so have a roadmap.

#9: CHAPTER TEMPLATE: create one so you don’t have to reinvent the wheel each time.

#10: IDEAL READER: Who is she and what does she need to hear from you?

#11: REACH YOUR READER: Author platform—start thinking about how you will reach your reader even before you write your book

#12: OPENING PAGES: Know where the story starts.

# 13: CLOSING PAGES: Know where the story ends.  

Note, all 13 steps interrelate and don’t have to be tackled in order.

To clarify, these are not 13 things to check off a list. These are 13 steps to help you get clear on what you are writing so that your writing will go much faster once you start. Take the time upfront to save time later. 

Planning Works for Most Writers

Is the Blueprint the only way to write? No, of course not. Some writers do fine “pantsing” it all way—and if that’s working for you, keep at it!

But for most writers, planning works. And in my opinion, it does not squelch creativity. Planning gives you the structure/container to express your creativity.

Priming the Pump

Sometimes just getting the words down on the page is what you need to do to get the juices flowing, otherwise known as "priming the pump." 

Some of you may be familiar with  “morning pages,” Julia Cameron’s writing practice made famous in her book The Artist's Way. Morning pages are great, but just be aware of what you are doing with that free writing exercise: priming the pump, not writing with intention.


The other extreme to freewriting is overplanning, not allowing your writing to take detours. FYI: sometimes the real story can be found in the detour.

That was certainly the case for me … both in my writing and in my life. 


#1: There is a middle ground between two extremes: writing by the seat of your pants and planning that leaves no space for the creative process.

#2: Building a foundation for your book takes time but saves lots of time, energy, money and heartache in the future.

#3: Even if you have a plan, don’t be afraid to take a detour with your writing and let the genie out of the bottle. 

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