How careful planning before you write makes the editing process a much less prolonged (and expensive) experience!

“If you fail to plan, you are planning to fail!” Variations of this quote have been attributed to Benjamin Franklin and Winston Churchill, among others. Dubious provenance aside, it’s a statement that can be applied to any number of situations or tasks.

Consider family holidays. They require much planning. In fact, planning the trip is arguably as exciting as getting on the plane and saying, “We’re off!” Several years ago, we decided to take our kids on a trip to Europe. They were past the age of being hell to fly with, but still young enough to enjoy our company. We took out a map and laid it on the table. We asked them what they most wanted to see. “Lindt!” (meaning chocolate) said our daughter. “Ferrari!” (meaning cars) and “Ducati!” (bikes) our sons cried. Zurich, Bologna and Modena immediately had pins stuck in them. Being responsible parents (stay with me), we added destinations of historical, cultural or sentimental significance: Garmisch Partenkirchen, Recoaro, Neuschwanstein, Berchtesgaden, Salzburg, Innsbruck, Florence, Pisa, Venice, Lago di Garda, Cinque Terre, etc. By the end of this exercise, our map was full of pins. We were able to choose two central locations among the pins to base ourselves by renting villas, as this was far more appealing than a family of six spending four weeks traipsing from hotel to hotel with a truckload of luggage. This plan was the starting point for our trip. From there, we added the practicalities – getting there, getting back, getting around and so on.

Writing a book is similar. You must plan. If you choose not to, well, you may not ‘fail’ – but rather than produce a well-organised piece of writing that makes you truly proud, it’s likely to fall short of what you intended and readers may be sorely disappointed. Whether it’s a guide to breeding Bettas, a memoir about a significant event in your life or a sweeping romantic saga, it all begins with a plan. And it should be fun. Why? Because it’s the part where you get to dream, to brainstorm, to write (or type) an idea that’s been developing in your mind – possibly for a very long time. Once you’ve identified the main points of your story, the real work begins… writing it. Here are some tips to help keep your book on track before it wanders off topic or characters and timelines become an unholy, illogical mess. Remember, the more you plan the content and organise the structure of your book, the less it’s going to cost you in the long run. Structural editing is expensive. The less continuity issues, the better.

For fiction writing, you should have some idea who your main characters will be, what they look like, how old they are and how they are related. You also need to have a timeline. If the story travels through several years or decades, make sure the ages of the characters progress accordingly. Importantly, keep in mind the period when your story is set; too often writers forget details such as technology (or lack thereof). If your story is set in the 1960s, you can’t have someone using a mobile phone. Likewise, if it’s a modern day story, don’t stick to using phone boxes or calling landlines and leaving messages – unless there is a good reason, of course! This may seem obvious but it’s amazing how often writers omit such important details, plots don’t make sense and important facts are forgotten.

For non-fiction writing, such as a step-by-step guide to a skill in which you are an expert, write down every aspect of this skill you want to convey to readers. Then sort it into logical order. Imagine you are a complete beginner – what are the fundamental basics you need to know at the outset? You can add details as they come to mind. (Hint: keep a pen and paper or recording device beside the bed, in the car and anywhere else where ideas tend to pop into your head).

For a memoir, write or type as much as you can recall about the event(s) you want to include in the work. Then, sort it into chronological order and add details as you go.

Once you have a plan for your book, you can use this to begin writing. A spreadsheet is helpful to keep track of characters, details in chapters, timelines and so forth. Importantly, when you finally type THE END, you can be confident your book contains all the elements and nothing has been missed.

Remember, planning will make the editing process a much less prolonged (and expensive) experience!

How do you plan your writing? Do you make a list or a spreadsheet? Or do you just begin to write and hope for the best, revisiting parts as you go along? What problems have you encountered using either of these methods? Share your story by emailing

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