Part 3: Easy Steps to Structure Your Writing and Develop Clear Goals
“Prose is architecture. It’s not interior design.” – Ernest Hemingway
No need to ditch your job. No need to take needless risks. Test the water first. See what you’re capable of. See if it could work.
To give you an idea of what I’m planning to share in these series, I’ll share more tips about developing a writing routine, honing your craft, editing and publishing, marketing, monetization, publishing eBooks and much more.
For now, let’s focus on step 3: how to structure your writing and set goals for yourself.
Structuring Your Writing Ideas
#1: Make lists
As most of you know, I write short stories, blog posts and I’m working on a novel. All types of writing require a different approach, however how I structure all those types of writing is usually the same.
Everything starts with a list.
For the purpose of this post, let’s focus on writing short stories – as I usually do.
In my notes app on my iPhone, I keep a list of ideas for possible story ideas.
These lists can consist of concrete story ideas, lists of subjects I want to write about, morals, pieces of dialogue or sentences that pop up in my mind.
I have the following structure:
- Top ideas: in the top section are the most important ideas, about things I learned in terms of writing/editing/to do’s, and ideas about the story I am currently working on.
- In the next part, I keep ideas that excite me the most or spelled out plots for an upcoming story.
- Then come the sentences or pieces of dialogue that pop up in my mind, they wouldn’t necessarily belong to particular story or subject, but I always go through this when I start a new story to see if something might fit.
- The most exciting part comes now, a list of story ideas, with parts of plotting, characters, morals, and other ideas (my list would cover 5+ years of stories, providing I publish one every month). Usually, when I write down these ideas, I also come up with a story title.
- Now comes a smaller list of subjects I want to write about, but without concrete story ideas.
- The last part deals with technicalities about my site, ideas to grow, expand and marketing.
I do the same thing for my blog posts, only the structure of that list is a little different:
- At the top, I write down all the subjects I could write about. Subjects I’ve experience in. About which I can share lessons, ideas, anecdotes or advice.
- In the second part, I keep my list of articles I plan to publish in the coming two weeks.
- The longest part is filled with article ideas, ideas for a series of posts. For instance, about side hustling your writing career, but also many other separate article ideas. I have enough ideas to publish 2 Medium posts every week until the end of the year.
- In the last section, I’ve picked a couple of article ideas and mapped them out already in terms of subjects I want to touch upon, listicle steps, quotes etc.
#2: How to Manage Your Lists
I add to my lists almost daily. Whenever I read something, watch a film, series, TED talk, documentary, ideas always pop up. Especially when I am in the middle of writing a story about a particular subject. It’s like I have an antenna for useful information about that subject in whatever I encounter.
So, let’s start building lists with your ideas. Write down what inspires you. Choose topics that you’re excited about, that (literally) keep you up at night. Topics you want to teach your (future) children about. Soon you’ll find you get ideas from everything. From a situation you encountered at the grocery store, to a newspaper article, to a great film. And then when you lie down at night and review your day, you’ll find yourself depriving yourself of sleep by getting your phone again to write down a plot twist for a story you’re working on, or a paragraph of beautiful sounding sentences
#3: How to Structure Your Story
“Organization is what you do before you do it, so when you do it, it’s not all messed up.” – Winnie the Pooh, A.A. Milne
Now that you have your ideas ready, pick one to write about.
Usually, when I pick an idea, I’ve already written down plot points, pieces of dialogue, character traits, and a general storyline. Now it’s time to transfer those to a new word document.
Then I take the following steps to write a full story:
- In the word document, I start to map out different sections of the story. Or, if I’m clear about what the storyline is, scenes.
- If I’m not clear about the storyline, I try to come up with at least 10 ideas for the plot.
- Again I try to come up with at least 10 ideas for:
- Character traits
- Messages I want to convey
- When I’m ready to write the scenes, I copy all my ideas at the end of the page and start writing using the ideas I have written down.
- For extra structure, I sometimes map out all the scenes of the story and list 5-10 ideas below about what happens in the scene.
- This way, I’m never stuck, but I do leave room for new directions as I’m writing. This is very important. You never know where a story might take you!
“‘Begin at the beginning,’ the King said, gravely, ‘and go on till you come to the end; then stop.’” – Lewis Caroll, Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland
How to Set Your Writing Goals
Now that we’ve covered listing and structuring your writing ideas, let’s explore one more topic: setting your writing goals. Most of you have a job I would assume (just like me) and want to write in your free time. I highly recommend it! But you have to make some sacrifices in terms of free time, time spent with loved ones, time watching Netflix.
Make your writing goals realistic and align them with your current lifestyle and workload. They should be set high enough to challenge yourself. Also, you need to set a date to each goal and make them specific.
For example, I want to write 2 5,000-6,000 word short stories in a month:
- Write 500 words a day
- Get up 30 minutes earlier to write (those 500 words)
- Finish the first draft of a 6,000-word story/article/chapter by X date (technically that could be done in 12 days)
- Use the left-over days for editing
What are your best tips and tricks for structuring your writing ideas and setting your writing goals