Motivation, First Drafts and Planning

05 Jul

I was following a conversation about creative writing on LinkedIn recently, and someone was talking about motivation. All the commenters were talking about what do you do when you are trudging through a first draft and you think that what you’re writing is rubbish. I replied with the following rant, sorry, spirited explanation of the important processes involved with getting your story actually done. I thought you would enjoy it, so I reproduce it here.

In my courses I point out that motivation is a tricky thing. Stopping at points where you know exactly what you are going to do next is a good tactic, but that presupposes that you plan what you do, which of course you should. Lots of people don’t plan because they like to be surprised at what comes next, and they think that planning somehow squashes the creative process. But think about it, would you stand up in front of 1000 people and start talking on a subject without any clear idea about where you were going with it? Would you embark on painting a 1000 foot mural on a wall without a clear idea? Would you start filming a feature film without a very detailed plan? Would you build a gorgeous one of a kind boat without a blueprint?

No you wouldn’t. Planning is everything, you must sit down and somewhat coldly and passionlessly plan what your story is about, chapter by chapter, how many chapters and how many pages. You should plan exact details about what happens in each chapter, forming a blueprint of what is going to happen and also not only what happens but why. Then you will almost never run out of steam because you ALWAYS know where you are going to go at every stage.

My students ask does this squash creativity? I always answer no, on the contrary it frees it. Because in those spaces in between the hit points, the points of interest, you can be free to improvise and create and have lightning flashes of insight which bring the thing alive. And what if it sucks in places and you don’t think it’s working very well? If your plan is good enough and detailed enough you will sail past those sticky patches easily and get to stuff you are more sure about. Then when you’ve finished that all important first draft you can go back and fix those parts that don’t work based on the rest of the stuff that went well. It’s all about the big picture.

I put it like this: Painters don’t paint their pictures inch by inch making sure they get every stroke right and figure out what the picture is going to be later on. They have a vision of what it looks like overall, they sketch it all in roughly, then refine it and refine it until they are happy with the plan. THEN they start applying paint to tie it all together, and if a bit isn’t working they revise it and revise it until it all works together. You should do the same, the first draft is a pencil sketch which you refine and perfect, until you are ready to start applying paint in the second draft and finish and polish with the third.

Art is not about about getting it right first time, it’s about exploring the world you create until it matches your vision. Only when it matches your vision do you show it to anyone else.

I’d recommend my own books on writing but that would be crass so I’ll point you to Roz Morris’ excellent “Nail Your Novel” because that talks about this process in a very lucid and easily workable way. Plus Roz is brilliant and deserves a much bigger audience.

Just my 2p.

“Nail Your Novel” is available on Amazon. If you don’t have it already go look now. Obviously my friend Nick Daws has written on this subject extensively too, and you can get access to his courses here or here. Obviously in a forum discussion I think it’s in poor taste to pimp your own books, especially when they are not on the topic being discussed, but this is my blog and so I can say it now: look for me on Amazon too by all means if you would like a taste of what I do. Or subscribe to the newsletter and get two of my books for free!

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JOIN NOW and I’ll give you a FREE copy of my NEW eBooks, “Write Better Movies” (RRP £3.99) a guide to what makes a good film and what you should do about it, and “101 Creative Prompts” (RRP £0.99).

“Write Better Movies is an inspirational e-book from freelance writer and film-maker Phil South. Phil is passionate about film, and in this concise manifesto he sets out his views on why many films made today are substandard, and how screenwriters can help remedy that by writing better scripts. There is some great advice here, expressed in a concise, easily digested form. Overall, Write Better Movies is a great little guide for any aspiring screenwriter who wants to bring his or her work up to the next level.”NICK DAWS

AND THAT’S NOT ALL! Sign up today, and you will also receive a FREE copy of my popular self hypnosis audio “Amplify Your Creativity” (RRP £9.95).This hypnosis session expands your creativity and allows you to access the most creative part of your brain, your subconscious mind.

That’s a full £14.93 worth of goodies just for signing up to receive something you might have signed up to anyway. No risk, you have nothing to lose and everything to gain. Do it today, you won’t regret it.


Oh and something else you won’t regret – share your stories with the world by publishing them on  to get good quality and great service.


My new book is out on KINDLE on Amazon UK priced at £2.12 and at Amazon US priced at $3.45. I will soon be offering it as a EPUB and a PDF but Kindle works on iPhone and iPad too if you can’t wait!

Nick Daws, respected writer and writing coach and author of the best selling “Write Any Book in 28 Days or less” had this to say about the book: “Let’s Write a Story sets out an unusual but effective method for creating an original story from a familiar starting point. If you love to write fiction but have trouble coming up with compelling plots, Phil’s suggested approach – which is described in detail here – will amaze and delight you. After reading the example plot Phil created using this technique – which could easily form the basis for a publishable screenplay or novel – I could hardly wait to try out the method for myself!”

Also watch out for the new apps for iPad and iPhone/iPod Touch on the iTunes store, including the iPhone version of the Creative Genius Deck. I’ll let you know when they are launched, but I’m very excited about these apps as they are taking my creativity training in a whole new and unexpected direction.

As you may know, the physical Creative Genius Deck is out. If you’ve ordered a deck (especially from outside the UK) please be patient because for some reason the decks seem to take a long time to reach destinations outside the UK. It’s worth the wait, trust me.

Go to for more details.

Thanks for reading, see you again soon.

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Posted by on July 5, 2011 in Creative Genius


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