Games of Thrones author George RR Martin believes there are two types of writers – the architects who plan everything to the last detail and the gardeners who drop the seed into the ground then watch it grow.
Which are you?
Do you map out what you’re going to write before your fingers hit the keyboard?
Or do you start with a blank page and let the words take you where they will?
Quite often when writing for our business, it can feel as if we are just dropping in the seeds and watching them grow. It’s because we are so comfortable in our area of expertise that the words really do seem to flow onto the page.
And yet… gardening actually does require an awful lot of planning to be successful. Great gardeners do the planning in their head – adapting to a challenging environment or bringing fresh ideas to their landscape. They don’t realise they’re planning because it’s become automatic after doing it so often.
It’s the same with writing. The ‘seed droppers’ have already mentally dug the hole before they plant their latest idea into a new project – whether it’s writing fantasy drama for a hit TV show or a new article for a business newsletter. There’s been a whole lot of unseen planning going on before the seed hits the ground.
Planning brings freedom
Writers who ‘seed drop’ baulk at the idea of planning their writing. “Stifles creativity’ is pretty much the general objection to taking time to plan.
But what if planning can bring more creative freedom, not less?
I was intrigued to hear that US author Jonathan Fields found there was freedom in a planning framework when he wrote his new hit book, How to Live a Good Life. He chanced upon the framework after he’d written several drafts of the book but his publishers weren’t happy. That led him to research the top 10 selling books in the genre he was writing for; and by comparing their table of contents for each one, he identified a common framework and structure that each followed. So he made a plan for his book organised around that common structure, then rewrote it and ended up with a book that his publishers and the public loved.
Fields says he was surprised to find that the framework acted not as a barrier to his creativity but as a road map that showed how to reach his ultimate destination, which was to be useful and valuable to his audience.
Choose a plan, any plan
Following a framework, making a plan that works for you is going to be trial and error because there are a number of different ways to formalise what you have previously done in your head. Here’s the planning structure that I used for this article:
- What’s the background? Following a writing plan can bring creative freedom and a more effective result for anyone who writes for business. Most people do some form of planning without realising it – using a set framework can bring improvements, even for those who hate to be tied to a process.
- What’s my key message? Making a plan before you write will give you the freedom to meet your own and your audiences needs in a far more effective way.
- What does my audience want to know?
- Why should I plan? Making a formal plan frees up mental space for new creative ideas
- How can I use a plan? Try different frameworks to find one that works for you.
- What’s the key message again? Outlining and following a writing plan can help all writers, including people who write for their business, to be more effective.
This is just one way of planning – it’s working for me right now but I may well find another approach that would work better for me. I’ll certainly keep playing with the framework to adapt it to my needs. Just as we can stand out by using our own individual voice in our writing, we also serve our audience best when the tools we use are servants not masters. A writing plan is just another tool but definitely one worth considering if you want the seeds you plant to grow tall and strong with magnificent blooms.