My last post was all about the things you need to consider when figuring out when to stop planning and start writing. For this post, I want to discuss some reasons that writers get stuck in the planning phase. There are plenty of writers who have amazing ideas for novels, and they plan it in great detail, but it never gets written. It is time to stop letting great novels die so young. There are a lot of reasons that writers may give up on what could’ve been a great story. I’m going to give you a few that I have found to be common.
Shiny New Idea Syndrome
A lot of writers suffer from this. Shiny new idea syndrome is the awful curse that has been placed on some writers and forces them to abandon working ideas for new ones that pop up. This is a tricky issue to be faced with because giving into shiny new idea syndrome is not always a bad thing. Sometimes the new idea is just a better one. But a lot of the time, you’re just excited because it’s new. In fact, this is biologically wired in us. There is a part of the brain which responds to new ideas and experiences called the substantia nigra/ventral segmental area (SN/VTA). This portion of the brain is linked to the areas of the brain that are responsible for memory (hippocampus) and emotion (amygdala). So, when your brain encounters something new, it compares it to exciting memories. At the same time, the amygdala is strengthening the emotional response and long-term memory. To put it simply, it is been found that new ideas actually motivate the brain to seek rewards. However, as a writer, it is your job to know if you truly have a better idea or if your brain is deceiving you.
One way to combat this is to let yourself do a little work on your new idea. Get a new notebook, and write out some notes about this new idea you’ve had. Everything you’ve thought of, get it down so you don’t forget it. I typically suggest using a new notebook because then, if/when that idea goes somewhere you’ve got a place to start. Now, you need to put that away for a few days and continue working on the project you’ve been planning. When you have a shiny new idea, that’s a good time to begin writing the project you’ve been working on, even if it’s just one scene. In a week or two, see if you’re still thinking about that shiny new idea, and I don’t mean that you thought of it once while you were in the car. I mean it has to be nagging at you, constantly in your head when you should be doing other things. Unless you’re obsessed, you should stick with the project you’ve already put effort into.
Fear of imperfection
This is a big one. A lot of writers get stuck planning because they are afraid that they won’t do their story justice. These are typically the perfectionist-types that fall into this pattern. Don’t get me wrong, there is nothing wrong with striving for perfection, and it will certainly come in handy when you are in the revising and editing phase. But when you’re drafting, you need to understand that getting words on the page is all that matters. Your first draft will suck. It will be practically unreadable, but you need to have words in order to shape them into your beautiful story.
Understand that turning off your inner editor is not an easy thing to do. In fact, it’s something I still struggle with. I will spend 15 minutes on a sentence that doesn’t feel quite right. There are some ways to work on this. One thing you can do is working on prompts. Read a writing prompt, and then write as many words for five minutes as you can. See if the next day you can get a higher number. This will help you work on letting words flow out freely without judging them. Another thing you can do is use a website called Write or Die. This website will punish you if you stop writing. Not only will it force you to hear horrendous noises if you stop, but you will also begin to slowly lose words. The last bit of advice I will give you on this subject is the most difficult thing to do. Changing your mindset is never easy, but for us perfectionist folks it’s particularly difficult to recognize that no book will ever be perfect. There’s not a book published or otherwise, that couldn’t be better than it is.
Lack of confidence
This is closely related to the last issue, but a little different. Lack of confidence comes from not being ready to tackle this particular story. Unlike fear of imperfection, lack of confidence is a symptom of not having the skill set necessary for writing the particular story you’re working on. For example, perhaps you have a large cast of characters and you’re not sure how to deal with that. So, what do you do when you need to learn something? You hit the books of course.
A lot of time, diving into the writing craft can make you more confident. The better you understand the craft, the more likely you are to feel that you have the jurisdiction to write a novel or story. There are so many craft books that you can read or seminars you can go to. The first thing you need to do is figure out exactly what it is you’re feeling unsure about. Then study it. And remember, you can learn as you go. That first draft will get better in revisions. In fact, that is a great way to begin working on those areas you are less confident about. Working through these insecurities in your work in progress is a great way to get deep into the mechanics of the issue.
The misconception that you need every single detail
No matter how much you plan beforehand, the book will not write itself. Part of the fun of the drafting phase is diving even deeper into the world you are creating. Even after the story is published, you will be learning new things each time you read it. That’s part of the joys of reading and writing. You can’t ever have everything.
How do you combat this? Focus on knowing what is necessary. Let yourself find the little details along the way, when the characters begin to take on a life of their own. Instead, find those plot points that carry the story on. Find the traits that are at the core of your characters. I think of it like constructing a building. You need the physical structure before you begin decorating. Planning is the walls and roof, whereas the writing is the decor that makes it feel like home.
If you’re having a hard time moving ahead from the planning phase to the writing phase, you need to figure out what is holding you back. Then it’s time to tackle the issue. Your story deserves to be written, so get to writing! If you’ve got reasons that keep you from moving onto the writing phase or ways you’ve gotten over them, put them in the comments below!