Writing advice

Planning early, part two – the problems

A smart man once said, “you won’t get anything done by–oh wait, I did that already. Having a plan is a great way to ensure things like this don’t happen, but planning isn’t always the best thing to do early on. While I have already suggested why having a plan is a good thing, it can stop you from the actual act of writing. And, if you want to write a story, that’s a bad thing!

Don’t get me wrong; having a plan is important. This post isn’t designed so much as a “reasons why you shouldn’t have a plan”, but more “reasons why you shouldn’t only plan.” The act of writing a story, whether a full-length novel or a short story, can be daunting. It’s incredibly time-consuming, and you’ll often find yourself isolated from the rest of the world. Planning can be a good way to break up the monotony, and you might be thinking there’s no such thing as “too much planning.” Well, early on at least, you’d be wrong.

So let’s take a more detailed look at some issues with planning early on:

  • You can spend more time planning than writing
    I’ve probably already said this before, but it bears repeating and, really, it’s the most important point in this post. I say this entirely out of experience, and I’m sure others will agree; planning is a great form of procrastination. On the surface, that statement may sound stupid or contradictory. How can working on your story/novel be a form of avoiding work? No matter how you look at the process of writing a story, the simple fact of the matter is this – it won’t write itself. It’s all good preparing for the moment your hero steps onto the stage and defeats the bad guy, but at some point, you’re going to have to put those characters onto the page. A plan is a distraction if it isn’t used. Compare your plan with your story – if your plan has a higher word/page count than the story, you know you’re an overplanner.
  • The plan isn’t always perfect; the first draft never is
    What I mean by this is, let’s say you’ve got this master plan for a story. You’ve detailed exactly who your main character(s) is/are, the problems they will face, and how they will emerge victorious. Every single aspect of the story has been prepared for and considered, right down to the main character’s drinking problem which they must overcome to save the world (for example). Only, as soon as you start writing it, you find yourself stopping to question the plan. Maybe you find the character too boring or cliché. Or you suddenly decide, through writing, that you actually want the main character to be a robot with ten heads. Alright, now I’m just being silly.My point is, it’s all well and good taking the time to explore your characters, or the plot, before writing. But writing is an arena to test your plan in and see whether it really does work. And the thing with the first draft is, it’s never the final version. I doubt any writer in history will be able to claim that their first attempt became the final product. Changes will be made, and you’ll only discover what needs changing by actually writing the first draft.
  • You don’t publish your plan
    This sounds painfully obvious, but we often overlook the obvious, so I’m going to state it. The plan never gets published. Period. Once your book is on the shelves (or wherever you decide to publish it) your plan will sit where you left it, gathering dust (virtual or real, depending on whether you use a computer or not), never to see the light of day again. Unless there’s a sequel/prequel, in which case yay! Don’t get me wrong; without that plan, your book would not have made it to the shelves. But there’s no need to go all out with it, to spend time editing it or making it look pretty, because all that effort will go to waste. Concentrate on the story!
  • The first draft is a form of planning
    Finally, it’s worth bearing in mind that in these early stages of writing a story, this is your very first attempt at creating a finished product. The final story is a long way off, depending on how strict you are with your writing, and right now you’re probably doing a lot of stop-starting. So much so that I wouldn’t even call it a first draft.What that means is, whatever you’re writing isn’t going to be perfect, it isn’t going to be final, and it’s probably awful. That’s absolutely fine. So, treat the first few bits of your writing as part of the plan.Better yet, imagine you’re a scientist: you have an idea, a theory, an “I think this thing happens.” What do you do? You research, and experiment, and analyse data, and re-research, and re-experiment, and re-analyse, and you keep doing this over and over, until at the end you can proudly say; “This thing happens.” Or it doesn’t, in which case…whoops?

    The very first things you write are just forms of experimenting; with the ideas, characters, or plots you’ve come up with. It’s the time to test your ideas, sure, but also to let your imagination take those ideas and play with them, to mould and shape them into whatever form they end up taking. Then, in their new form, you go back to your plan and alter it accordingly, write some more, come up with new forms, and plan again. Over and over, until at the end you can proudly say; “I did a thing.” Which, hopefully in this case, is finishing your novel. Yay!

Creating a novel is all about finding a balance between planning and writing, and they go together. You can’t do one without the other, and you need to do both if you’re going to get to the end result. Although I’ve suggested reasons why planning is good, and why it isn’t, my ultimate point is this (in case it isn’t clear): don’t do one more than the other.

And it really doesn’t matter which one you start off with, planning or writing; that’s a personal preference, though I would suggest if you normally do it one way, try experimenting the other way around. Because that’s the fun part of writing. You may have heard that there are “rules” to writing, “do”s and “don’t”s. And there are. But they’re there to be broken, to be changed and played with. Experimenting with writing is important, and so it’s important to change things up.

But when it comes to planning and writing, there are only two rules. And, unlike the other rules, these shouldn’t be broken (yes I know I’m contradicting myself!): do them both, and do them equally.

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