Throughout this series on "Planning in Writing," I've laid out and updated older writing and writing planning strategies, presenting different methods by which people can think through their own processes. This isn't to guarantee a means to a perfect individualized strategy, and while constructive planning (one of three presented categories of planning) is highly flexible, it can also be fallible for any number of reasons through no fault of the writer or the process. So, for those who would like a guide with which to create their own planning aids, "Planning in Writing" provides five different broad goals.
Remain within the bounds of and respond to a social or rhetorical problem.
Writing is an abstract process, but there are always parameters, whether they are self-imposed or dictated by a given task. It's important to be open to the notion, as well, that the social or rhetorical problem could develop during the act of planning. This is very common, and often, writing is a direct response to that. The parameters of the writing would be for the purpose of situating it within that social or rhetorical situation.
Usually, this is something that can be found by reading and interpreting other texts, absorbing objective topic knowledge, and through careful interpretation of the task, making sure to note how limited and how flexible it is. Coming from this, there are many writers who might default to a very linear step-by-step process, but sometimes that's too limited. A conversation, in the same way, is not always linear or focused. There are sometimes tangents and conversation topics change over time. This is to illustrate that people don't always think through plans in a linear fashion and, by extension, that kind of plan doesn't always help. So, ideally, a plan should address it's parameters but should be open to any available possibilities that can arise from it.
Planning should support different planning strategies.
This can be an integration of knowledge-driven, schema-driven, and constructive strategies, but should depend on both the task and the writer. It's also important to understand that these strategies can change. Sometimes, a strategy that usually works for the writer isn't the most appropriate for the writing task. In other instances, a strategy that would normally work for similar tasks might not be appropriate. It's important to then remember that there are options and to consider what those options are. I've covered many of those strategies throughout this blog, but there is a wide variety of options to choose from.
Both content information and goals should be considered.
Several more prevalent methods of planning defines the process by its ability to produce text, but while this approach can sometimes be necessary, it isn't always the best option. Plans and goals can change over time and a goal-oriented approach can help with that. "The Building Blocks" goes over the creation of a goal network and how that can look. By viewing a task in terms of its associated goals and topic knowledge, it's possible for the text to come more organically [albeit through a few extra steps].
Be sure that plans are monitored and consolidated.
This is where a lot of problems normally arise in the writing process. Monitoring goals is very important. Concentration on a problem often depends on long-term memory, and that means that a working knowledge of both goal and goal structure is important. Using an approach that can accommodate this consistently can help writers to remember long-term goals.
Another important strategy that is sometimes forgotten is keeping previous plans. Even if those previous plans didn't work for some reason, they were still a part of your writing process, and it can help to reflect on the overall process. This kind of reflection can help if the writer is either instantiating plans or setting intentions as described in "Make Your Structure Sound." Being able to recover older plans, even if the same line of reasoning isn't followed, it can help to think through the process that brought the new plan from the old plan.
There are a variety of processes that can be used to consolidate plans. Often writers will form short summaries of sections of their plan, reduce their tasks to sets of ideas, develop connections, and integrate new ideas in the process. It's important to be able to consolidate in order to keep a steady focus on the writing task and to resolve conflicts.
In addition to accommodating to plans changing over time, be aware that there are different paths that can lead to the fulfillment of the same goal.
While this can read as repetitive, goals are not the only facets of a plan that can change over time. Topic knowledge changes too. There are a wide variety of ways to approach a topic successfully. This is one of many reasons why I state that the dichotomy of right and wrong in writing isn't as accurate as something that does or doesn't work. This is why it is important that a planning strategy leaves room to include topic knowledge that could change the writer's perspective on the task or how to approach a goal.
If a writing task is to determine Leo Tolstoy's view of human nature based on Anna Karenina, a possible goal that some writers may have is to show how characters can be seen to be working on being better versions of themselves. Not every writer, given the same task or with the same goal, is going to approach that goal in the same way. That doesn't mean that some of the writer's paths don't work, it's just a different way to meet the same goal. If a path does not work, it's possible to adapt and change. That's easier to do the more visible and tangible a planning process is.
An important part of creating an effective personalized writing plan is about metacognitive awareness, knowing how we think. If the writing planning process looks like how the writer thinks, there's a higher chance that it could improve writing performance. Plans become easier to think through, reflect on, review, and revise. If a writer has a tendency to restart multiple times, implementing some of these strategies could be helpful.
It's important to be able to personalize, think of strategies that work for you, and understand that there are options. Is there a specific strategy that works for you? Let me know in a comment!
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This marks the end of my series on "Planning in Writing." Entries that follow will be covering post-process theory. If you'd like a brief background on post-process theory and get an idea of what I'll be looking at, here is a blog entry that gives an accessible overview on the concept. My aim as of now is to address questions about what post-process theory is, some takeaways from post-process theorists, and the degree to which it is or can be practical.
Dowling, M. (2017, February 26). Continuing the Conversation (Post-Process Theory). Teaching the Writerly Life. https://teachingthewriterlylife.wordpress.com/2017/02/26/continuing-the-conversation-post-process-theory/
Flower, L. (1989). Planning in Writing: The Cognition of a Constructive Process. Technical Report No. 34.
Tolstoy, L., & Magarshack, D. (1961). Anna Karenina. New York: New American Library.