Writing to Plan – Penny Hike, Map or GPS?

As I’ve been planning my new novel this last week or so, I couldn’t help wondering how others approach this phase of the writing process.

When I hear writers say that they ‘write into the mist’ I can’t help but admire them, it’s something that I could never do. To me that would be like going on a ‘Penny Hike’ where every time you get to a junction, you flip a coin to see which way to go. Others I know like to plan in detail, they plot and plot until they have every scene in every order and know exactly where they are going.  They plan their writing journey with the precision of a GPS navigation system. Sadly, I’m not that organised.   I’m probably somewhere in between.  I do like to plan and I like to gather together scenes that I think may fit into my novel along the way but not in huge detail.  I have a pretty good idea where it’s all going but am prepared to take a detour now and again.  I see it rather like planning a journey with an Ordinance Survey Map, knowing that you are starting at ‘A’ and going to end up at ‘B’ – albeit eventually.

Having said that, I do like to have a good handle on the time-line and it’s something that evolves as I write.  A bit like a travel journal.  I like to know the month my novel starts, if possible the week and the day.  I also like these days to be a true reflection of days in real life.  For example, if my heroine works at the Post Office, I can’t have her going into work on a Bank Holiday Monday, so I like to get the calendar out and check.   I’m not entirely sure every reader or, indeed, any reader would go and check themselves but it would be just my luck that someone reading it will know that date – maybe it was their birthday or wedding anniversary – but they will know that it was a Bank Holiday and, therefore, the Post Office was shut.

To help navigate this calendar minefield, when I wrote my last manuscript I devised a timeline. I simply got several sheets of A4 paper and wrote out my own calendar.  Then I put a circle round the days when key events in my novel happened, together with a couple of words to indicate what that key event was.  That way when I wrote something like, ‘It had been ten days since she had heard from him’, I know that it is definitely ten days, not nine, not eleven, but ten exactly.  I have a thing about continuity and this is how I keep it going.  Also, it can give a quick overview of key events so if anyone comes back to me and queries something, I can instantly refer to it.

My timeline – covered about six months

I’d love to know how everyone does their planning.

Do you Penny Hike, take a map or get the GPS out?


19 thoughts on “Writing to Plan – Penny Hike, Map or GPS?

  1. I like your approach. I’ve always wanted to be more systematic and organised, but find my characters and myself start to resist the overly rigid plans. I actually got an old calendar from the year my novel was set in and wrote down what happened on what day.

    • Hi Marina
      Yeah, old calendars or diaries – so useful. I must be one of those visual people – I have to be able to see it, can’t do it all in my head, or keep track.
      Thanks for dropping by.

  2. I love the analogy, Sue–you’re so funny! (I mean that in a good way!) (You know that!!) 🙂 I’m afraid to admit I’m the GPS person. I have everything planned right to the last details: timelines, scenes, conversations, locations… even occasional starting lines for the various chapters. That said, I do take detours frequently–or rather, I let my characters take me on detours! It’s a bit like when the GPS says, “at the next junction, turn right” and Sophie goes, naaah, I don’t want to go right, I’m heading straight on. So the GPS protests and squawks for a while and then recalibrates. Great post, Sue, can’t wait to read your next WIP–so excited! 🙂

    • You do know, when I wrote about the GPS, it was you that immediately came to mind. I’ve seen your planning – remember :0) It’s amazing, don’t know how you do it.

      It is nice though when the characters suddenly take you somewhere unexpectedly or say something you weren’t expecting them to. I can imagine Sophie being like that, in fact, I feel like I know Sophie so well, she could be my new BBF.

      Thank you, as always, for leaving a comment.

  3. As a newbie who is writing short stories and beginning to plan a novel, I love posts like this! But I shall have to get back to you regarding what sort of a writing planner I am! 🙂

    • Hi there!
      I really enjoy the planning stage, getting the structure together, it can be a bit of a ‘mare at times, but so satisfying when it all falls into place.
      Good luck with yours – let us know how you get on.

  4. Hi, Sue. I take the ‘Penny hike’ approach. I don’t particularly want to, but having never got to grips with knowing too much too soon I always ended up back at my default setting (the penny hike). The only two things I know at the onset are my starting and finishing points. I always feel like I should be more organised and have a plan to hand. My way feels fraudulant, but it’s the only way I can work.

    • Oh Claire – you have my admiration – I know I can be a bit flighty but I’ve tried the Penny Hike method and I end up down a cul-de-sac in some strange part of town.

      You’re braver than me!
      Shout if you need the GPS!

  5. I know, I know… It’s fraudulent, not fraudulant! Is a three day migraine sufficient excuse for poor spelling? 🙂

    • Totally sufficient!

      Here have some Romaniarnica – good for headaches and other ailments – we use it all the time.

      • Thanks, Sue. The mere mention of Romaniarnica and *whispers just in case* I feel much better 🙂

  6. When I started out I wrote everything down because I thought that was what writers ‘did’. I misunderstood the phrase ‘your first three chapters will sell your book to an agent’ and wasted time getting the first three chapters right instead of ploughing on with the novel and letting it lead the way. Within the broad framework of how I wanted it to turn out, that is. Consequently I spent time OVERWRITING the first 1/4 of the novel before giving myself permission to go off piste and just WRITE. Then the rest of the novel was written in half the time. Am now on the last three chapters having edited over 100k words, but I still have that sat nav in my head. Only, now she says: “turn around when its safe to do so.” Happy writing friends.

    • Hi-ya Lizzie
      Thanks for dropping in, didn’t get a chance to speak to you at the RNA party, only to take a sneaky photo for you during one of the speeches. :0)
      I think you’re right in that you can get too bogged down with trying to get it right first time, sometimes you just have to let the writing fly. Good luck with your last three chapters, although I think it’s safe to switch the SatNav off now.

  7. I liked the analogy, too. I’ve been both a pantser and a plotter and, this time, I’ve plotted up a certain amount, like scenes I know will have to be written and where they will be, plus some character and place sketches. This time, I’m going with the current year, so the dates are easy to work out.

    I wrote a post a couple of days back about going out locally with a camera to find inspiration and also, often using my imagination to change various details, places for my characters to live, work, use (like a hall for an exercise class) or patronise (e.g. local butcher) as well as specialist shops and businesses where I’ve been able to pick people’s brains for details needed in the next book. It’s been fun and I have more than enough information for when I sit down to write in June. I like having the skeleton sketched out and a rough map to keep me focussed. Let’s hope this means I won’t with this WIP have that awkward middle-muddle, from which I had somehow to extricate characters last time! At one point, I hadn’t a clue how to carry on and almost gave up, paralysed.

    All the best for your current WIP 🙂

    • Hi Tessa
      That sounds pretty thorough. I also like to either take photos, or notes of the trees and foliage if I know I’m going to set a certain scene there. Easy to do when writing about the local area, haven’t quite convinced the bank manager that a trip to Texas is vital to my research!
      Good luck with the writing

  8. I’m rubbish at planning. I just throw myself in and see what happens (although I am usually writing ‘to’ an end scene in my head). As for timelines… my editor tears out her hair at my flipping around with the year!

  9. You have my FULL respect Jane!
    Thanks for taking the time to stop by – always appreciated.

  10. I like your timeline, Sue – just struggling with the very same so going to pinch your ideas – thanks!

    Celia xx

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