If you’ve decided that the writing life is for you, then you could do a lot worse than set yourself some writing goals. It’s not unusual to hear new writers lamenting that they “don’t know what to write.” One is prompted to ask what their motivation was for wanting to write in the first place. What were they thinking when they first got that urge to put words on a page? If that sounds a little like you, then think long and hard about what it is you want to write, and set those thoughts down on paper. You plan your holidays, and your flights in and out of the country. Why would you not plan your writing?

A written plan is perhaps too close to a commitment. A commitment means that you believe in your ability to do something, in this case… your ability to write a book. The best goals ─ actually the only ones ─ are those that are written down. They fix themselves in your psyche and become self-fulfilling prophesies. Clear writing goals, regularly updated, will lead you to publication.


What’s this about?

So, what about this novel? The one that you’re working on for The Montegrappa Writing Prize? In one or two sentences, can you describe your story: the “premise”? Can you also understand from this what your “controlling idea” is, what your story is about? Having a premise and some sense of your controlling idea will show you how well you know what you’re writing about. Type these up, and then rewrite them when you’ve thought some more. Over time, what you’ve written will come to have deeper significance.


How to stay on track

Map out an outline of your book. Ask yourself: Whose story is it? What does that person want? What happens to him or her? What does this person do, successfully or unsuccessfully, to put things right in his or her life? Before you even start writing, you need to design the structure of your book. Some authors start with just the premise and work out a plan as they write. Others, especially those turning out commercial fiction, spend months planning structure and scenes before they even begin writing (Jeffery Deaver, for example). Want to learn how to structure a story? Try reading one, and then take it apart to find out how it works.

Your outline will guide you as you write your first draft, and it will help you to start and finish that draft. By adjusting the outline as you go along, you can give space to your creativity, you can alter things, while remaining on track. Your updated outline will then help you fashion your synopsis. And you’re going to need a riveting synopsis if you’re submitting to Montegrappa.


Why You Need a Writing Habit

There’s something to be said for pounding out a large number of words each day. It helps you create a writing habit. It gets you over your fears of not being perfect. It brings you closer to producing a first draft of your book. National Novel Writing Month (nanowrimo.org), which requires participants to write 50,000 words in thirty days, serves this purpose. By revisiting the page every day, you begin to live with your characters, and come to learn what they would say and do in specific circumstances. You go to sleep with them in your head, and you wake up with them screaming to get out and take action.

Some writers fall foul of NaNoWriMo, clocking up a magnificent 25,000 words, only to find that they’ve written themselves into a corner. And why? No plan, no outline. A friend who lost the plot in this way had to start again from scratch, and lost eighteen months of writing time. Your outline keeps you on track until you finish that first draft.

After that comes the rewrite, when you can expand or cut to your heart’s content, but that’s another story.


Written by Janet Olearski

Janet Olearski is an author and writing coach, and the founder of the Abu Dhabi Writers’ Workshop. She sometimes loses the plot but usually ice cream helps her find it again. Read more at: http://www.janetolearski.com