Prep for the Swim Before You Dive In 🏊‍♀️


The excitement of a new project!!

We’ve all felt it. The urge to open up a shiny blank doc and start typing out all the fresh voices and thoughts because we JUST CAN’T WAIT.

I’ve done it over and over. And then…


I get stuck.

As fresh and sparkly as these new ideas can be, and though they whirl around my brain 24/7, I get to a point when I realize I have NO clue what's going on...or what I’m doing.

Wait…… Characters need MOTIVATION? Besides just wanting to kiss the LI? (Or, kill someone? If that’s more your thing!)

Sounds fake, but whatever.

And… yeah… I guess the plot towards the end of Act 2 that SOMEHOW falls apart and then MAGICALLY gets put back together by the MC should be more than “SHE FINDS A WAY TO…”.

*side eyes those blank beat sheet moments*


So, how do we avoid completely frustrating moments of OH SH*T I DIDN’T ACTUALLY FIGURE THAT OUT YET?




Oh, but I can totally start and then go back and fill this stuff in later.

You absolutely can, and some people thrive on that. But if you’ve been in this exact place before and know you don’t thrive, then close that doc right now and don’t write another word.






Get organized! (I know, stop looking at me like that)


Start making your lists and spreadsheets.

I’ve organized a prep folder in my Google Drive where I’ve saved a blank version of every topic in my prep checklist. That way, when the next new story is ready to be born, I can make a copy of each, title it with the project’s nickname, and start filling in the blanks. Then, I organize those in their own folder for that project and find them easily.


ACTUALLY fill in the blanks

It might take a while. Or it might not. Everyone’s process is different, and everyone is going to want or need different things, depending on your strengths and weaknesses.

But, the majority of the time, we all need the major building blocks to start drafting a coherent idea. Plot and beats being the foundation. Character arcs being the structure. Without the external and internal goals, we get lost VERY quickly.

I learned this. Again. So, I’m trying to do better. Again. (Always)

Take as much or as little time as YOU need. Fill in the things you KNOW, the things you’re not sure of, and make yourself do some homework about your own plot and characters. It doesn’t have to be three page character questionnaires or the entire religious or governmental system (unless you want it to be), but make sure you know the things you tend to shirk out of when you dive into a project before you’re ready.

This is also a great time to practice a brief pitch and/or query. If you can already easily see and explain the stakes, you know the story is working. That’s a HUGE relief.

For planners, you’ll probably dedicate this time to outlining, too. I tend to go for the big beats with my outlines, then pants the chapters as I draft. As long as I have the big visual stepping stones of what’s happening next, I like to have the freedom to fill in the rest, discovering more about the story, world, and characters.


Some of the fun stuff for me is setting up the new project.

Make a color coded theme in Word or Scrivener, use background pictures for inspiration, get your playlists and moodboards ( If you don't have the skills (or the time) to create an aesthetic, Pinterest boards are a great way to keep project visuals in one place) set up… really immerse yourself in the feel of it so it’s more natural to keep the flow going as you start.

Add notecards, project stats, goals… all the things that will help you to keep going.


Take a deep breath and go have some fun! <3

Time to create your new wip!

Prep for the swim page
Download PDF • 309KB

Below is the checklist I created for myself. You can download your own here:


  • Fill in ideas and stats, beats, synopsis, and developmental ideas you already have


  • Beats

  • Character Arcs

  • If needed, start a list of magic systems, etc. to keep track


  • Know their Arcs

  • Character Immersions

  • Emotional Wounds


  • Write a pitch

  • Write a summary/synopsis

  • Go back and check these as you go, in case there are ideas you originally had you forgot about!

  • Write a query

  • Come up with comps


  • Scrivener outline

  • Project colors, aesthetics and mood

  • Fill in any extra ideas you want to remember

  • Write an outline, if you want


  • Aesthetics

  • Playlists

  • Candles


Jenny Marie is a YA Fantasy writer who loves all the yearning, all the atmosphere, and all the character-driven stories. She was an AMM mentee in 2019, a Pitch

Wars mentee in 2020, and is currently drafting to distract while querying.



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