Planning the Journey: Novel Plotting for (Mom) Writers

Mamas, we’ve all been there: you make a plan, any plan, and then when you try to execute it–your kids have other ideas. Whether it’s a juice spill, or a potty stop, or lost shoes, or a school project you didn’t know was due, there seems to be an unlimited amount of interruptions to your plans when you have tiny little dictators living in your house. So what can you do about it? And how on Earth are you supposed to get any writing done as a busy mom?

Give Yourself Grace

Being a mom to young children is a season, not a permanent state. Like any season, you have to make adjustments. You wouldn’t prepare for winter snow by buying a bathing suit would you? And at the same time if you tried to go outdoors in that bathing suit you would be completely and totally frustrated by your ability to function normally.

My advice: stop approaching writing in motherhood the same way you would have before you had children. Adjustments have to be made, and that’s totally normal. Give yourself the grace to recognize that you’re not going to work in the same way you would have before you had kids. For me, before kids, I could spend hours sitting in front of a computer, slowly pantsing my way through a story. Now? Not quite so much.

Planning to Write

Because of children, I went completely from being a pantser (meaning, you write “by the seat of your pants”/without a plan) to being a plotter. When I plot, I still try to keep my outline as loose as possible so that there is room for inspiration to strike. But I strongly believe that plotting has been the key to my ability to finish manuscript drafts while being a mom. Last year I was able to finish several first drafts faster than I’ve ever written any first drafts (one of them was under a month!).

The only reason I was able to do it was because every single time I sat down to write, I knew exactly what I needed to accomplish in that writing session. I tend to write linearly anyway, but it was immensely helpful to know what each scene I was creating needed to accomplish. While I’ll talk about scene building another time, I find that when I have limited time, purpose can make a world of difference. In this case, having a purpose for each writing session and for each chapter, helped propel me forward until I had a completed first draft in record speed.

How to Create an Outline

If you’re naturally a pantser, take heart! Outlines don’t have to be intimidating. While my outlines have evolved with time, when I first write an outline the main thing I do is write down loose chapter numbers with what I need to have happen in that scene.

That’s it. Nothing too detailed or complex. Not every player or the weather. Just what has to happen–plot-wise–in that scene. Because plot is the most essential to me in the first draft, that’s where my focus is. But again, I can’t emphasize how much that helps.

This isn’t to say you can’t make a more detailed outline. In fact, I’ve got some great material I can share in the future about creating detailed outlines. I find these really useful when I’m going into later drafts and figuring out if the scenes I’ve written are pulling their weight.

If you write an outline, I’d love to hear about your process! And if you don’t, feel free to ask questions or comment! I’m more than happy to help support you in your journey.