Using a planner to organize writing

Considering my well-known love of lists, it surprised no one when last year, I also fell in love with my first day planner. It let me organize all my work and projects and, with the improvements it made to my time management, it helped me accomplish more things faster. With such a productivity boost, I immediately wanted to expand my planner usage to make differences in my writing life, too.

I started by adding a section to my normal planner, where I compiled ideas and information, notes for editing, and overall schedules I wanted to adhere to with my projects. The problem was I didn’t have enough space. My planner was already bulging with all the organizational charts and notes I kept inside, so there just wasn’t room for anything else. The solution? Well, for me, it was getting another planner.

green planner

Planners can be cost prohibitive, which is why several of my friends who’ve started using them opted for a regular 3-ring binder with home-printed pages. That’s a great approach, especially if you aren’t sure you’ll like a planner system enough to invest in it. For me, though, I knew I needed something small and portable. I take my writing projects with me when I travel, so something small enough to fit into my purse or the diaper bag was ideal. When the local Michaels introduced their new line of planners, I decided it would be ideal for my needs. I picked green, one of my two favorite colors, and got started as soon as I got home.

I didn’t purchase any of their inserts, creating my own at home instead. Already owning a paper cutter and an adjustable 3-ring hole punch, I had everything I needed to customize my planner. It came with 3 sections, which was perfect, since I had 2 stories I was working on and that would leave me room to develop plans for one more, or just take random notes. As soon as I got home, I started working on what I wanted my writing planner to include.

There are lots of options for printable planner sheets for writers. Unfortunately, few of them are free. Those that are tend to be run-of-the-mill and not so useful to me. Most are charts for creating character profiles, which is something I don’t typically do. I prefer my characters to be more organic, and I prefer my planner pages to be devoted to the things I use often. I started simple with things I knew I needed:

  • An outline for the novel
  • A checklist sheet for notes I can mark off as I edit and address them
  • Lined note paper for things that don’t fit in the margins
  • Graph paper for tracking plot high and low points by chapter

And then I started by creating those for the two books I’d be putting in the planner right away. One of them was already half done, so I color-coded the text in the outline to show what I’d already covered, what I’d missed or decided to move, and what hadn’t been touched or considered yet. This quickly showed me another benefit of working with physical paper: it was easy to take a single page out and move it farther into the outline, effectively rearranging events.

SB outline pages

Once the outlines and the first few necessities were printed, punched, and tucked into the planner, this was enough for me to get started. I made flags out of stickers attached to paperclips and used them to mark my place on each outline. Then I made a list of what else I’d want to add over time.

  • A basic character template with vital information only
  • A simple template for the setting
  • A printed map of the worlds I’d created or real-world region I used
  • A numbered, lined sheet for planning chapter titles and major edits
  • Calendar sheets for tracking timelines
  • A zippered pouch with colored gel pens and highlighters for outline notes

As of yet, I haven’t added these pages to my writing planner, mostly because I’ve not found any premade templates that suit what I need–with the exception of the zipper pouch, which just hasn’t been added because I haven’t found one I like that fits into my new planner. I’ve made a few templates of my own, which I’ll share here and explain the choices I made for each sheet. PDFs will be provided so you can assemble your own printable novel planner of the same make if you like the way I organized mine.

In the meantime, converse with me! What kind of pages would you want in your novel planner?


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