MAY I tell you something about (my) writing (process)?

I’ve read some recent posts by a few Blog Me MAYbe-ers about their processes for plotting and first-drafting. I love learning about how other writers do what they do, and I find the differences in our individual methods so fascinating. I thought I’d share a bit about how I go about getting words on the page.

I’m a plotter, both in writing and in life. I like to have a plan for everything: day-to-day activities, traveling, tackling the grocery store, and, most definitely writing.  That’s not to say I’m completely rigid. I CAN be flexible. Things change – of course they do – but anytime there’s a change, especially where my WiP is concerned, I prefer to make a note of it on my outline. :)

oh hello

Here’s my basic process for plotting and first-drafting:

1) Once I’ve stewed over an idea for a good, long while (like, months) I write a one sentence pitch. This forces me to boil that often vague idea down to its true essence. Later, I use this initial pitch to write a three-line pitch, then a full query-type blurb to eventually pass on to my agent.

2) Next I make a list of any scenes I already have in my head, which is pretty much an enormous brainstorming session. This often takes awhile, and I add to the list as inspiration strikes and new scenes take shape.

3) I tackle a beat sheet, plugging scenes into appropriate places, and coming up with new ones to fill in the gaps. The beat sheet I use is a melding of the one in Blake Snyder’s Save the Catthe phases in The Hero’s Journey, and the layout detailed by Susan Dennard in this fantastic Pub(lishing) Crawl post titled How to Write a 1-Page Synopsis. My personal beat sheet has evolved to look something like this:

Ordinary World 

Inciting Incident – What event/decision/change prompts the main character to take initial action? 

Meeting with Mentor 

Plot Point 1 – What action does the MC take that changes the book’s direction?

Conflicts & Character Encounters – MC meets new people, experiences a new life, meets the antagonist. 

Midpoint – Another no-going-back turning point for the MC.

Rosy Glow – What happens that makes the MC think all’s well?

Plot Point 2 – Winning seems imminent, but the antagonist somehow defeats the MC and ends up more powerful.

Crisis/Black Moment – MC must fight through her emotions to find strength for the final battle. 

Lightbulb Moment

Climax – Final blowout between MC and the antagonist.


4) Once I have a complete beat sheet, I make an outline, scene by scene and color-coded according to plot lines and character interactions, one I follow pretty closely once I begin to write. Detailed as my scene outline is, it isn’t set in stone. I add and delete as I go, because once I start writing, the story comes to life and certain aspects inevitably become more or less important.

5) I begin the first draft. I usually write scenes in order, but if one gets me stuck, I just type in a quick place holder (AWESOME CONVERSATION ABOUT KISSING HERE) and move along. In the past, it’s taken me anywhere from one month to three months to complete a first draft. I like to write at least 2K a day when I’m drafting. I’ve found that if I don’t, I lose my momentum. I think we all know how difficult that is to reclaim!

So, that’s pretty much how I do it… It goes without saying that once that first draft is complete, it undergoes major revisions. Like, years worth, sometimes, for me anyway. Occasionally I wish my process could be less formulaic. It seems much more romantic to sit down with an idea and just start writing, but in the past that’s only earned me 133K words of crap. Plotting works for me, so for now I’m sticking with it!

What are your thoughts on plotting and first drafts?


25 thoughts on “MAY I tell you something about (my) writing (process)?

  1. Suzi says:

    I’ve always been a pantser. With my current WIP, about 20,000 words into it, I started doing more planning–thinking about scenes to fill in the middle and end. It has worked well. For my next, I’d like to try planning the majority of it out first, but if that’s not going well, I’ll go back to my old way. Sometimes it’s hard to ignore the itch to write.

    • katyupperman says:

      I say: Go with whatever works for you. If you’re feeling super inspired to write, it seems like sitting around with a beat sheet might be a waste of time. 🙂

  2. Zanne says:

    I don’t have a process yet. I don’t know what I’m doing! haha. I like your beat sheet a lot. I may borrow it.

  3. Carrie-Anne says:

    I’ve always been an organic writer, though for my longer books I like to have a general outline or list of chapter titles so I have some idea of what happens when. Writing wouldn’t feel fun or fulfilling for me if I exactly plotted out everything to a T and had certain things happen at exactly a certain time in the story arc. I just write the stories memorized in my head the way they come to me, and fill in the blanks along the way.

    • katyupperman says:

      Well, I’m a little envious of your more carefree style. 🙂 I find our individual processes for ending up with what is essentially the same product (a manuscript!) to be so fascinating.

  4. Rachel says:

    I pants like a mofo… but for my current WIP/revising-for-request novel, I have an outline of what happens in each chapter/scene. It is written out of order and if I didn’t have it, I would be SO lost 😀 Thanks for sharing about your process, Katy…

    P.S. If I wrote a blog post like this it would be “….I don’t do anything. I just write.” LOL!

  5. Sara McClung says:

    I can’t WAIT to start my next first draft. Unfortunately it won’t be until July-ish because I’m too busy until then. And have to revise my current WIP and get it ready to be sent out into the world to my betas.

    I’m a total plotter, but with at a rather high level. I know the key points and twists and turns, and I know my characters, and I know the structure of the story (mine’s similar to the one you’ve shared today) but I leave a lot of room for flexibility because I have YET to write a draft where some of the main plot points stop being possible at some point. Ha. *sigh*

    • katyupperman says:

      Sounds like our styles for plotting/first-drafting are similar, Sara, which is totally what I thought when I read the post you did about this a few weeks back. I’m glad to know I’m not the only gal who can’t fly by the seat of her pants. 🙂

  6. stephscottil says:

    I desperately want to do this for my next project. I’ve “pantsed” everything and it makes for a miserable experience overall when I get stuck. I love writing and I love it when a story comes together. Many of my headaches would go away if I had taken the time to generally plot my story ahead of time. I’m finishing up Save the Cat and have been kind of pulling my hair at how to translate it (since the beat sheet in the book is so specific to screen plays). I will bookmark your approach and also tagged the synopsis post since I need to work on one.

    Thanks for a highly informative post!

    • katyupperman says:

      I’m glad this was somewhat helpful to you, Steph. Yes, SAVE THE CAT is geared for screenplays, but you’ll find that the highs and lows of the plotline are very similar to that of most novels (as he says in the book). Still, I found that adjusting his structure slightly worked better for me, hence the sort of mash-up I’m currently using. Feel free to copy it and use it as you see fit, and good luck with plotting and your writing. 🙂

  7. June says:

    I’ve started to use a form of the beat sheet and it is helpful. I’m a pantser by nature, but using the beat sheet forces me to have at least a rudimentary outline of where the story is going. I’m going to check out your particular strategy in more detail. Thanks!

    • katyupperman says:

      Hope it’s helpful, June! I’ve found that revisions are much easier when I’ve done some plotting ahead of time. There’s not *quite* as much useless “stuff” to weed out later. 🙂

  8. Kitty says:

    Great post, Katy! I’m a pantser who has always been very envious of fabulous plotters like yourself. But I can never seem to make myself lay everything out even though I’d like to. I just sit down and start pounding out the words. Sometimes that works great … sometimes… not so much! Thanks for sharing – this is great info. 🙂

  9. Ghenet Myrthil says:

    I’m also a plotter, though since I’ve only completed one novel I feel like I’m still figuring out my process. For my first book, I pantsed (such an awkward word haha) my way through the first few chapters before stopping to create an outline. I think I’ll do the same with my next book because the pantsing helps me figure out what direction I want to go in.

    I’m planning on using SAVE THE CAT for my next book too. 🙂

  10. Sophia Richardson says:

    I loves to plot. Seriously, I tried the whole pantsing thing: *such* a disaster. The more planning the better, as far as I’m concerned, and Snyder’s beat sheet is the holy grail of ‘yeah, you haven’t thought this through enough, have you?’.

  11. Nicole Mc says:

    Wow!! This is amazing. I’m a little bit of both on the pantser/plotter issue. My secret fantasy is to be more organized. (At everything. sigh)

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