This series of articles is focused on how to get back to writing again. In part one, I gave a little bit of my background with having a high creative drive with low solo output. I mentioned that I used collaboration as a crutch and that I’d never truly, honestly, written much by myself. When I did make attempts to write solo, I was mired down in what I didn’t think was possible… over-planning.
In this article, I will discuss what I consider “over-planning”, give examples from my own mishaps, and tell you how I stayed positive throughout it all! Without further ado…
Behold! A shovel.
You can do a lot with a shovel! You can dig holes. You can put dirt– or other things– back into those holes. You can pat the tilled earth comfortably with it. You can probably survive a level in a zombie game with one, too.
For a writer, though, the shovel is a dangerous thing to have in their toolkit. You can dig yourself into a 150k+ story only to find a metaphorical gas main that stalls the whole operation.
Or, like me, you could just dump a ton of mulch on a flowerbed of delicate seedlings, smothering them before they can see the light of day.
To sift through this metaphor: the flowerbed is where you will grow your story. The mulch that you dump into the flower bed represents your pre-planning beyond a simple outline and character ideas. You need enough to keep your flowers healthy, but remember that they also need sunlight, water, and to not have every conceivable surface covered with dirt.
You can’t just plan, plan, plan and have a story, is what I’m saying. And if all your creative energy is going into planning, and not writing even a little of the final prose, then you definitely need to put that shovel down before you smother both your metaphorical flowers and your interest in your story.
So here’s where I tell you about something I over-planned and had to put up permanently, which was ironically titled “The Laura Palmer Project”.
The prose in LPP began with the discovery of a dead woman, because that’s how procedurals start. It was actually a fan project that mashed two improbable, unrelated shows together, because crossoverhauls are my jam. I messed with the rosters a little, added clever “in-jokes” for each series until it was a satisfyingly, surprisingly logical crossover. When I thought I had “enough” put down everything in the right places– in the cleverest places, even!– I paid someone to help me outline it. (Yes, you read that right!) I ended up with some excellent advice and a great outline– and let me say, this mess is NOT the professional’s fault, she was fantastic!– and I felt that I’d finally put to rest some of the problems I was having undoing the final kinks of my plot. I was ready.
Then, the next day, as I propped up my excellent outline and let my fingers hover over the keys… I realized that I was sick to freaking death of a story I had spent over two months planning but not writing.
I could give you a few ideas on why my interest flopped, but the big one is this: You know you’ve Over Planned when you feel you’ve already told yourself your story. I think this came from me being a “panster” (writing off the seat of my pants) and overcompensating outside my comfort zone, but I figure it can happen to the most effective “planners”, too.
To go back to the shoveling metaphor: I was looking at the seedling of this project and going “gosh, this needs MORE stuff before I start writing! MORE things I can pat myself on the back for feeling clever about!” and just went about dumping fertilizer on it, hoping to make it grow right away.
I was in love with the ideas that had inspired me for LPP, and some are ideas that I plan on cannibalizing later (that is another entry for another day!), but I never made any progress on Words to Show Other People. All because I’d never let myself discover the story itself, never gave those ideas the sunlight and gradual nurturing they needed to grow properly. I found that all I had to work with was a big pile of dirt on top of where my story should’ve been. I had the choice to start shoveling the story out from under all that mess, or start something new… which, with my energy levels at the time, was a no-brainer what to pick.
Next in this series: Backing It Up to Basics. How I learned to handle this particular disappointment and get back down to writing– not storytelling!– and how that helped me become a healthier writer.