Planning by Rosie Walsh

Rosie Walsh planning a novel with tea and chocolate cheesecake

Planning's a divisive issue. There's people who plot out their whole novel in advance. There's the ones who sit down with no idea at all. And there's a great sea of in-betweeners, who start with a vague beginning, middle and end and hope they'll be able to join the dots.

I've tried all of the above. All have driven me mad, in different ways, but the more books I write, the clearer it seems that good planning = good writing. Here's what I do. 

1. I sit down in a nice environment, ideally with something delicious and bad. As pictured. I free-write for about two pomodoros' worth of time, sketching out the main things I want to happen.

2. I then get out my post-it notes. Julie Cohen is the master of post-it planning. If you can get to one of her lectures on post-its (or indeed anything), go. I write vague scenes on post-it notes and stick them on a wall.  I colour-code, I move post-its around, I scribble over and replace them constantly. But before long, a whole story emerges. 

The first time I tried this approach I was astonished by how quickly I went from a one-sentence idea to a fully-planned novel. It took about three days. Previous methods - mostly involving complex plans of tens of thousands of words - have taken three weeks; sometimes three months. The economy of the post-it is the key to its success. And the portability.  IT'S BRILLIANT. 

3. Then I start writing the thing.

4. Needless to say, the book will take charge of itself after a certain time, and your post-its will need updating. When I'm about halfway through I turn my post-its into a table, in which a more detailed description of each scene is nested with dates, times of day; that sort of thing. I maintain this table right through to my final edit and I refer back to it constantly. It's particularly useful when my copy editor sends me a polite note telling me that one of my supporting cast has been pregnant for 2.5 years, or that three members of my supporting cast have the same name. 

5. I don't use Scrivener. Everyone tells me it will change my life - will damned nearly plan and write the book for me - but I find the whole thing slightly daunting. Maybe I'll get over this for my next book. Probably not.