filed under How To Write A Book.

I hope your writing week has been filled with lots of words! If it hasn’t, never fear. I’m here to help. Here is post No. 4 in my Getting Started series and it’s all about what to do if you thought you needed to plan a book before you started writing.

First, a confession. I never have a plan when I sit down to write a new book. And that is the most liberating thing, once you get over the fear of not knowing where you’re headed. All you need is one idea for one scene. One idea. Simple right?

How Ideas Fit Into The Writing Process

Sit down and write your idea into a scene. Aim for around 500 words. A little more or a little less is fine. When you’ve finished that scene, you need an idea for the next scene. It might come to you as you write the first. Or it might not. If it doesn’t, that’s where writing prompts come in and you can read all about how to use prompts in this post. Choose one writing prompt and write your next scene. And then the next.

None of these scenes have to be chronological. It doesn’t matter if you have no idea how the scenes are connected. Your job at this point is to write lots of short scenes. When you get to around the 10,000 word mark, which is about 20 scenes of 500 words (that sounds achievable when we break it down like that, doesn’t it?) then you might begin to see an order or a story or an outline begin to take shape.

If you do, great. You can now work towards your outline or story. If you don’t, write some more scenes until you begin to get a feel for the story. That’s how a book gets written.

You can see how important it is in this process to keep having ideas for scenes. Ideas are crucial if we want to keep moving our word count onwards. But there’s nothing that makes writing time run out faster than using that time to come up with an idea. Writing time is for writing. Ideas happen at all other, often inconvenient, times.

You Don't Need A Plan To Write A Book. All You Need Is One Idea.

What I do when I have an idea

Here’s what I do. No matter where and when I have an idea, I write it down straight away. This might mean a scribble on a piece of notepaper, or a jotting on the back of a business card, whatever is available. I record my voice on my phone if I’m driving. I have a notebook in my handbag and another one by my bed. I’ve used parking tickets, envelopes, anything that can be written on. I’ve even contemplated using my children! (not really!)

I used to have a master ideas notebook on my desk. Every couple of days, I would gather up all the scraps and notes and re-write them into the master notebook on my desk. When it was my writing time, I would open up the master notebook, look at the list of ideas and pick whichever was most appealing at that time. Then I would write the idea into a scene. It meant that every time I sat down to write, I had something to work on. There was no procrastination, no waiting for the muse to show up, no scouring my mind for ideas.

Collecting ideas using Scrivener

I still do something similar, but I’ve gone techie! No master notebook; instead all of my ideas are popped straight into a Scrivener document. I basically create a new scene (or index card) for each new idea. On the index card, I jot down the idea. When I sit down to write, I run my eye over the index cards and choose which one I want to work with and then I begin to write it into a scene.

Sometimes I get ideas to flesh out an existing scene. I can do that in Scrivener too; Scrivener has a yellow notes section at the bottom right corner of each scene and so I just put my idea into there. Then I colour code the scene using Scrivener’s Label feature so I know it’s a scene I have to come back to and add more to.

Scrivener Corkboard. A Great Way To Collect And Organise Your Scene Ideas For Your Book.

A way to manage all of your writing ideas

Other writers use post-it notes on a chart; there are many other variations. It doesn’t matter so much what your method is. The important thing is:

  • to keep having ideas
  • to jot the ideas down when you have them
  • to have a “master list” or someplace to collect all of the different ideas together
  • to use that master list as your work plan; choose one idea from the list and sit down to write. Never worry about what order the ideas should be in or working in some kind of chronology. Work on whatever idea strikes you the most at the time.

Take action now – how will you get your ideas process working?

I hope you’ve enjoyed this Getting Started series and that it’s helped you to make a start on your book. I believe it’s possible for anyone to write a book, they key thing is being inspired and staying motivated. I wanted this series to be one of the things that could inspire and motivate you to get your word count rolling and to start believing in yourself.

I’d love to know how you’re going, what progress you’ve made, what problems you’ve faced. What is your method for managing ideas? Do you have one? Have I encouraged you to develop one? Are you a planner? Or do you like the sound of this process?

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31 Responses to “You Don’t Need To Plan A Book: Here’s What Works Better”

  1. paul

    Great tips, indeed, really. It doesn’t really work for me since I write scientific papers. Or better, need to do that but fail epicly on that. Procrastinating is a problem, because I need to specifically nail the research problem at the one hand, and need to come up with its solution on the other. I’ve got a rather good picture of the problem, but putting it into words, or lack thereof, makes abundantly clear that I actually don’t understand the real problem at the detailed level that is required to write it down, let alone solve it.
    Does that resonate with some of your experiences, and what would be your professional advice to come over such “researcher’s block”?
    Thanks in advance for your consideration!

  2. Moxie Grey

    Thank you for the great ideas! I like the first one the best. I will definitely incorporate those into my writing. I usually just write ideas on whatever writable surface is nearby and then put them into a master notebook when I am able to.

    • Natasha Lester

      Pleasure. Glad you found it helpful. I’m a bit the same – ideas scribbled everywhere all the time so it’s great to have a home to collect them all in.

  3. Sammie

    I often have very vivid dreams and can remember them for some time after I wake up. I am also able to “continue” the same dream or story the next night if I try hard enough. In this way I’ve come up with lots of stories I’d love to tell, but never thought to write them up properly. I found your article today and its inspired me to try my first 500 words, fingers crossed and thanks!

    • Natasha Lester

      Good luck with it Sammie. Just take it one short piece at a time and eventually, you’ll find you have enough words and enough of an idea what the story is for it to begin to take shape into a book.

  4. Ian Dennis

    I’ve been doing something very like this recently. Do you take a pen with you wherever you go? I’ve been contemplating doing that, as I’ve found ideas to be very inconvenient when they show. 😛

    I especially like the Master List. It makes much more sense than trying to remember where I placed scattered notes throughout my notebooks and computer.

    • Natasha Lester

      Yes, I always take a pen and notebook with me everywhere, and I also use the Notes function on my phone to record ideas when they happen. Ideas ARE convenient when they show – often in the shower or while driving the car for me! And yes, I couldn’t live without my master list – I hope it works for you.

  5. Liz

    This is wonderful advice. I’m a stay at home mother who is always trying to “plan” a bit too much when it comes to finding time to write, how I will put a story together etc and after reading this, I feel inspired and motivated to just do what I know is best and that is to not feel to hurried to organize the story but to just write my scenes! And that master list you mentioned is great! Thank you

    • Natasha Lester

      Hi Liz, so glad it was helpful! I know everyone has a different way to write but I just feel that sometimes it’s best not to let worries about planning get in the way of the actual writing. For me, writing is planning and the more I write, the more I understand the story I’m writing. So good luck with it and happy writing!

  6. Sandy

    When I actually make time to write, I just keep going. What I really would like to know is do you need to do chapters, or does this get done in editing. Also if you want to get published do you have to find an agent and how hard is that?

    • Natasha Lester

      I wouldn’t worry too much about chapters in the first draft. Once you begin to redraft, you will have a clearer idea of where the captors should go and you could start to put them in then. Before submitting your manuscript to anyone, you would want to have redrafted your manuscript many times and be certain that you have the right structure for your book, and part of this would be finalsing the chapter splits in your book.

      I’ve written about finding agents and getting published in a number of posts and if you click on this link, you’ll be able to find all of the most relevant ones.

      I hope that helps with your questions!

  7. Connie

    Thank you for this wonderful post! I have been stalled in my writing process for almost 2 years. I miss the discipline that a writing program provided me back in 2013. My problem is that I was working on a theatre script, but it was suggested that it should be a novel. I began working on chapter one, but I find that I spend too much time worrying about editing. I feel like I want to move on to something else, but I also want to finish this work. My job and family takes up so much of my time, to the point that when I get free time, I just want to sleep. Then of course I feel guilty that I’m not writing. What do you suggest when in this situation. Should I shelve this work for now and work on some new ideas?

    • Natasha Lester

      Hi Connie. Glad you found the post useful. I think you have to be passionate about what you’re writing, but I also find that the passion grows the more you work on something. What I can suggest in this case is to give yourself a timeframe, like a month, where you make sure you do some writing on this project most days. That way you’ve given it a good chance to see if the passion does grow, and, if you’re feeling tired, you can say to yourself, well I’m only doing this for a month. Next month I can watch TV/sleep etc. You might find that you get to the end of the month and you so enjoy the writing and you’re in such a good routine that you decide to keep going. If you find the passion hasn’t grown after a good solid month of writing, then it might be time to move onto something else.

  8. Constance - Foreign Sanctuary

    What you said is so true!!

    I am at the tail end of finishing my first book [a memoir] and the actually writing part has gone relatively smoothly for the most part.

    Personally, the hardest thing for me has been convincing myself that it is ok to take a break from time to time as time away from it all is just as important. Recharging the batteries does wonders for your writing ability and flow.

    • Natasha Lester

      That’s great! Good luck with finishing the book and happy redrafting! And you’re right, sometimes time away is so important to give you a new perspective on your writing.

  9. Victoria MIzen

    Thank you Natasha. I have only written one novel, ‘The Green Velvet Dress’ and I sort of new the sequence in my head although what I thought I’d write each day sometimes changed completely with help (or interference) from my muse. I’m going to give your ideas a try for the next one. My concern is trying to remember who did what when if I jump all over the place. How do you deal with that?

    • Natasha Lester

      I use Scrivener so I have the benefit of having both a Binder and Index Cards which summarise what happens in each scene. This really helps to keep me on track, and is just another one of the reasons why I love it.

  10. Judi Abraham

    I never looked at the writing process as you just described. One scene or visual is all I need to get going. Think it, envision it, express it on paper. 1-2-3. I’m on my way. Thank you Natasha.

  11. Lisa Henkenius

    Any advice for an ex elementary teacher trying to start writing children’s books? I have several ideas that I believe have merit based on what I know kids like to read. Just struggling to get the help to take these ideas to the next step- the books are nonfiction/fiction mixed and that is where I need help! Any advice you may give would be really appreciated!

    • Natasha Lester

      Hi Lisa, do you have a Writing for Children course in your area? I would start there, as this will give you lots of tips and help you get started. Probably your first step would be to decide if you are writing fiction or non-fiction as it will be very hard for publishers to place something that mixes these 2 genres.

  12. Joanna (Lazuli Portals Trilogy)

    Thank you for this, Natasha! I found it via Pinterest and will be re-sharing.

    I write without a plan, too, and usually in a linear fashion. With my latest novel, though, I’m finding many separate scenes popping up, and as it’s the final book of a trilogy, I have online notes coming out of my ears! As a result, your approach sounds like a good fit for me at the moment. 🙂


  13. Luci

    My issue is that I want to stay on track the old fashioned way (minus scrivener) and can’t…… demotivates the creative process. I’m caught in two worlds as I started writing before the electronic/information age and find it hard to transition. I have 4 WIP’s languishing as I can’t bear to stare at a screen in my free time (since I do it all day long at work). Writing long hand also has its disadvantages as I don’t have the inclination to word process. I have electronic burnout and even typing this message has fatigued me……………..guess I’m not destined for writing greatness……any advice??

    • Natasha Lester

      Have you thought about wiring longhand and then paying someone to type it out for you? I know it’s a cost, but if it enables you to make it through a draft, it might be a worthwhile investment?

  14. Valérie

    Thanks Natasha for the wonderful advice.
    You really give me hope !
    Before I read your blog, I was little by little concluding that I am not made to be an author !
    One day, I want to write and publish a novel but have not started yet (minus all the note-collecting process). I was discouraged : most of the author’s blogs I have read because they almost all suggest a writing process that includes what I find to be an impossibly high degree of planification. I have an idea for two characters and a general setting for my novel, but it is not clear how they will interact…

    I totally relate to your problem. I’m in my thirties and I struggled to adapt to computers and such.
    Even today, I do not own a cell phone.
    I presently work on a scientific paper for my thesis and often, I write my first ideas for a paragraph longhand. Then, I type it, during which I can see more clearly where I’m going with this of that idea… Do not give up because of this “technology-aversion” !!!

  15. Steve Plumb

    Thank you for the advice. My problem always is with starting the book but the idea of writing out scenes makes it more doable. My mother always told me “don’t look at the whole mountain but take it in smaller chunks.” Rings true for this too.


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