Author Insider,  Making Of

First Novel Journey: My Prewriting Plan

The plot, the world, and the characters for my first novel have been in my head for a while now. But before I dive in and start writing my first draft, I want to take some time to thoroughly develop a plan for such a large undertaking. So, as a newer writer, how am I going to approach this?

Clear, Measurable, and Achievable Goals

Personally, if I have something I want to achieve, I know I’m going to fail if I don’t get organized, plan, and set a number of clear, measurable, and achievable goals.

I’ve decided to aim for a completed first draft by December 31, 2022. I’ll start the actual writing in May. This gives me eight full months to work through smaller, more manageable checkpoints. Thankfully, over the course of writing my previous short stories, I’ve learned how I work best, where I work best, and how many words I can write in a given day. 

I know I can write about 1,500 words a day, but school is coming to an end and I’ll have to work on squeezing in my writing while playing referee for my two spirited boys. So, I’m going to aim for a safe 1,000, with 5,000 words a week at minimum. Even with that leeway, I should have more than enough time to complete a draft by the end of the year.

Another decision I’m making is to break the project into pieces. Naturally I can do this by chapter, but I’ll break it down even further to each scene, then to each paragraph. Anne Lamott describes a small, one-inch picture frame that she has on her desk to help her stay focused on the small task at hand when she’s tempted to feel overwhelmed. She writes:

It reminds me that all I have to do is to write down as much as I can see through a one-inch picture frame. This is all I have to bite off for the time being. All I am going to do right now, for example, is write that one paragraph that sets the story in my hometown, in the late fifties, when the trains were still running. I am going to paint a picture of it, in words, on my word processor. Or all I am going to do is to describe the main character the very first time we meet her, when she first walks out the front door and onto the porch. I am not even going to describe the expression on her face when she first notices the blind dog sitting behind the wheel of her car–just what I can see through the one-inch picture frame, just one paragraph describing this woman, in the town where I grew up, the first time we encounter her.

Anne Lamott, Bird by Bird


I have found this to be an absolute game changer in my approach to writing. It helps to quiet my inner critics and to keep me moving along.

Read, Read, and Read Some More

A major focus for me, both during this month of prewriting and throughout the course of my draft, is reading. I have a number of particular reading goals, and they are listed below:

  1. This story is set in a world loosely based on the Bronze Age Mediterranean, Dark Age Greece, and the ancient peoples of the Pontic Steppe. Though I’m writing fantasy and not historical fiction, I think it’s important to do a lot of historical research to help lend some realism to the story. In particular, I plan to read up on the Scythians, Sarmatians, Dark Age Greece, ancient warfare, etc. I’m an ancient history geek, so this is honestly fantastic to me!
  2. I also need to read up on the writer’s craft to continue to further my understanding of effective storytelling. This category would include books like The Emotional Craft of Fiction, Conflict and Suspense, Characters and Viewpoint, etc. I also have a couple of K. M. Weiland’s workbooks that I will work through to help develop character arc and plot.
  3. And lastly I need to read books to learn from what other authors are doing. I’m working to assemble a portfolio of excerpts from books and short stories that I find to be great examples of structure, characterization, dialogue, or other story elements. I also want to keep up with what is current. So, books in my genre published within the last couple of years (Age of Ash, Priory of the Orange Tree, Shadow of the Gods). I want to read books in my genre, or related genres, that I believe are comparable to my story, perhaps with the same point of view or the same theme (Tyrant, The Last Kingdom, Legend, City of Brass, Blood of Elves). And I want to read classics. Both older classics in my genre (Robert E. Howard, David Gemmell), and newer classics that many fantasy readers love as well (Joe Abercrombie, George R. R. Martin, Robin Hobb, Glen Cook).

As For Actual Prewriting

It’s been a while since I’ve played with this story, so the first thing I’ve worked on has been going through my old notes and plotting out the entire book again. Now though, I’m spending time thinking through the subtext, character arcs, and emotional depth as I do so.

I also need to review the worldbuilding I’ve done to be sure everything still lines up. This story is set in a world that is a few hundred years in the future from a more traditionally large epic fantasy I have planned out. What I do in this story, should it get published, will effect what happens in those other stories, so I need to get it right.

And just because I’m prewriting doesn’t mean I should let my writing skills get rusty. I plan on spending some time working through writing exercises where I develop my protagonist, supporting characters, setting, and voice.

Wrapping Up

So, there you have it. All of the nitty gritty minutiae that is going into preparing myself to write a novel. Whew! I still get chills when I say that. I should probably get myself a little picture frame, just like Anne Lamott. I’ll add that to my list!

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