How to Plan a Book, Part One (of Two)

I started planning Everborne over a year ago in August 2015. These are the first six (of ten) steps I have taken (so far) that got me ready to begin writing earlier this month.

Pre-planning: Failure

Everborne first bawled breath on my weekly food-shop walk to Sainsbury’s during my third year of university (2013). I can even remember where I was—I’d just turned out of the small square park that I used as a thirty-second-saving cut-through—when it sparked out of the nothingness that had been writer’s block.

I developed the idea for a module I was taking at the time, wrote the first chapter as the end-of-term assignment, and developed the idea to continue at the start of my MA.

Everborne did not go well. I decided to abandon the idea for the remainder of the course; I wouldn’t think about Everborne for another year and a half.

Ditching Everborne wasn’t an easy decision. I’d already put so much time and effort into producing the first 20,000 words. Not only that—and I’ll sound like a fruit-loop for saying it—but I had to say goodbye to characters who had become as real as friends to me. Characters I’d thought about every day for months, living their lives, first in my head; then on the computer screen; afterwards on the printed pages during editing, re-editing etc. I was crushed.

Looking back, Everborne failed because I didn’t take most of the following steps. I also didn’t allow Everborne to form organically; I missed steps so I didn’t miss deadlines. Too much of it was forced.

Today, Everborne is a very different idea. Apart from the name and a smattering of characters, they share very little in common. My failure also helped me. As did a year of reading books I wanted to read and wasn’t forced to read. I learnt a lot by reading books I considered inspirational; not ones I was told were good. It’s why I still read every day.

Step 1: Try Writing Something Else

When Emily and I went interrailing across Europe during the summer of 2015, I took a pocket-sized notebook with me; I hoped to produce fragments that I could work into some travel writing upon our return. It’d been a year since finishing my MA and a year since I’d written anything.

I made pages of notes every day. Most of it was on our trip, but sputterings of ideas for a fiction story started to fly. However, I kept returning to one character in particular from Everborne. As much as I tried brain-storming for other ideas, I kept coming back to him.

Step 2: Get a Notebook and Strap Yourself to it ALWAYS

When I realised I couldn’t not write Everborne, I decided to get another pocket-sized notebook. Not because I have a notebook fetish, but a fresh notebook would allow me to start the idea afresh. Everborne had already failed before and I didn’t want to make the same mistakes again. The year-and-a-half hiatus was the distance I needed to begin thinking about a new story. More than that, it made me hungry for one. (Mmmm, story!)

I kept the notebook on me at all times. And I do mean at all times. It became as essential to me as my phone, wallet and keys every time I left the house; in case I had to seize a sudden thought that could threaten to fade as fast as it had struck. This step is still on-going; no doubt it will continue throughout the writing and drafting process.

For the first few months, probably September—December, my ideas drifted and came to me occasionally. I made notes of character names, place names, types of characters and traits, main themes, ideas I wanted to explore, things I wanted to include, sparks of story and so on. Anything and everything and all things in between. It wasn’t ordered, it was as it came. I didn’t rush myself, I just let it happen, from day-to-day, allowing my mind to wander. It was very organic.

Step 3: Momentum

By the New Year, my notes had  gained quite a lot of momentum. What began as thoughts hastily inked on the train to work, during lunch breaks, or in spare moments in the evenings and weekends soon blossomed into something far more substantial. My thoughts soon gushed and my notes with them; it wasn’t long before I was thinking about Everborne everyday. I was consumed.

Step 4: Get a BIGGER Notebook

I’m starting to wonder if I have a notebook addiction, as my next step was to buy a BIGGER notebook to better order my scrambled thoughts. I also wanted a back-up, in case my beloved pocket-dweller disappeared. Most weekday evenings became spent in the quiet of the front room, where I sat copying, developing and adding notes to my plans.

I became over-protective of this notebook, never allowing it to be in the same bag as a water bottle in case it spontaneously burst, and I kept it separated from its pocket-sized twin, just in case.

Step 5: Commit

By mid-February 2016, I knew I wanted to write part-time.

Step 6: Tell Everyone you Love (or Like, or Reasonably Tolerate)

Once I knew I wanted to try and write part-time, I started talking about it with my parents, my brother, with Emily, with Emiy’s parents, with my friends and whoever else would listen.

This is an essential stage: this is where you get your encouragement. Not one person told me they thought it was a bad idea or questioned whether it was worth doing. Everyone said that if it was my dream then I should definitely go for it. (I now know who to blame if it fails!) I was also told to not sound so apologetic and to take myself seriously, otherwise no one else would. This advice especially helped with my confidence. I learnt that doing something unconventional wasn’t something to be ashamed of or embarrassed about. It was something to be embraced.

[I will finish this post with steps 7-10 next week!]

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