I used to be a straight pantser. (Someone who writes by the seat of their pants instead of plotting with an outline, etc.)
Never did anything, not even writing down character notes, before starting a novel. My mind liked it, but my manuscripts became a bit of a nightmare to edit. It’s hard to keep track of characters, plots, and timelines when NOTHING is written down.
And your memory is a bit shit.
Now, I do better.
I plot a little. I’ll never be a true plotter. Outlines bore me to tears. So, I’ve found a compromise that works.
Stage One: Faces, Names and Places
Three things I usually do before anything else is to pick the location of a story, the novel title, and visual references for the characters.
I’m not a very visual person, so I definitely need an actual image to picture while I’m writing.
Stage Two: Build out a Book Bible.
I use thin A5 Muji notebooks and fill out little character questionnaires for the main characters along with notes about family/friends. I also jot down a loose timeline. I find this helps keep the novel on track, but also with writing newsletters and blog posts once I’m done with the book.
Stage Three: Media.
Before writing, I build two essential lists. A musical playlist, my current WIP has a mostly country music playlist. I also create a TV/movie list. I find watching shows or movies based around the theme of what I’m writing can really help me get in the mood.
For The Royal Marine, for example, I watched a lot of Bake Off. For the Grasmere trilogy, it watched Poirot, of course.
Stage Four: Let’s Play Pretend
This is the stage where I’m usually supposed to be giving myself a writing break, but I’m chomping at the bit to write.
Stage Five: Write
Self-explanatory that involves a lot of coffee, sobbing, and hitting my head against the keyboard.
If you’re a writer, are you a pantser or a plotter?