Losing the Writing in the Planning

by limebirdamber

“In order to get published, you have to write a book first.” – John Cheese.

 I think that’s how the quote goes. It’s close at least.

This post was inspired by a class I’m taking at college, the teacher, and a friend. The teacher and friend are writers who leave me breathless. The depth of the worlds they created shocked me. I felt like it was something I never could have done. The teacher’s notes on his world were over 77 pages long, my friend has notes of about 12 pages, which is just a start. They both have vivid scenes, and my friend has gone into great detail with me on them.

So, what’s the problem?

Neither of them started writing the book yet, even after how long they’ve been working.

I think world-building can be a very helpful mission to take on. For this class, I’m working on building a world. It is fun, and makes you feel accomplished. The problem is in getting bogged down with making the world and never starting to write the book!

My teacher mentioned he has been working on the world for, if I remember right, twenty years. Twenty years with an amazing story in your head and yet nothing has been written on paper script-wise. It broke my heart.

My friend, again if I remember right, first had the idea for this story at about eleven. That was ten years ago. I understand not writing at that age, but imagine all the scenes he must have built up at this point and yet hasn’t been able to pen them.

A writer plans.

But, a writer also writes. (Did someone here say this? Cause I know I read this somewhere!)

Be careful to not get lost in notes and sit down and let the words come. Your book is going to tell you what it wants anyway.

It may not turn out how you planned.


46 Responses to “Losing the Writing in the Planning”

  1. There comes a point where you have to stop assessing the depth and temperature of the water, the adequacy of your technique, and the best approach – and just dive in.
    Otherwise you’re more of a researcher rather than a writer.

  2. I’m writing a plan for my novel at the moment. The irony? I’ve already re-drafted my manuscript nine times! So this is my tenth time. A story plan is something I should have done sooner but if I did — irony again — I wouldn’t have finished it. What’s motivating me now is, “I’ve put years into this. I’m not going to give up and waste all that time. You have a gem under all that smelly garbage!”

    This planning will be worth it. It’s hard to see issues when you’re standing in the middle of a field the size of Australia. If you hover in a plane then you can see the overall layout and things you never noticed by wading through blind.

    • Nice imagery. 🙂 I agree planning has its place but eventually we have to throw everything away and just try. 🙂

  3. Nice post! I think that you capture both sides, and how important both sides are: both the planning and the writing. A writer can’t (well, s/he can, but it’s tricky) jump into a story without knowing where it is or where it goes. But a writer also isn’t an architect or engineer; if just the building and planning stage is what’s most enjoyable, perhaps the writer needs to rethink his or her passion? 🙂

    Good points – and anecdotes – to keep all of us with our own stories and our own worlds moving forward. So, forward!

    • Onwards and upwards. 🙂 I think having a mixture of the two helps make the piece go vroom, but I love some reckless abandon from time to time. 🙂

  4. I’m in the process of writing my own book now, and I think I’m in the stage of “write, write, write.” I haven’t given myself the opportunity to get lost in the planning quite yet, but I’m sure it’ll come soon. In regards to planning, all I have really done is jot down more and more ideas that I wish to include in my book. However, I can imagine how hectic that list will become as I go deeper and deeper into writing my book. Love this post. 🙂

  5. All of my stories are short ones, and so far I’ve not done any planning at all. It takes away from the magic for me somehow. If I was to do a longer work though, I would love to know how to do the planning and plotting of an outline – what a help that would be.
    I agree with unpub’s great analogy – Jump, dive or fall – sooner or later you have to get in the water!

    • I love the stories you write, I haven’t had the chance to read much lately. Anyway, when you get there just be careful Neeks!

  6. I don’t even consider myself a writer, really. (I know. What am I doing here, then?) But I have one of those half-completed worlds, too. I began it during childhood as an escape and worked on it some as an adult, but over time your needs and interests change. I don’t know if it will ever become a book or an art project or anything except personal entertainment. Part of the reason it may never see the light is because making something concrete out of it would kill all the other possibilities. The dream world is infinitely flexible; a book is shoehorned into the confines of a reality which doesn’t seem good enough.

    Also, there’s a perfectionist issue: could anything I make out of this world be good enough to represent all the work I put into creating the world?

    It’s easier to write potboilers. No tangled history, much lower emotional stakes if you fail.

    • Everyone fails. It’s doing again and again until you succeed that is your mark. I think you can do it. No one says you have to share your world with the world. It can just be your special place and there’s nothing wrong with that. Or you can do multiple pieces in the same world. 🙂

  7. I’ll be honest, this is exactly why, at a certain point, I turn the world-building over to being driven by the needs of the story. A deep world is good, it’s important, but it’s the story people are reading for in my experience, both as a reader myself and talking to other readers. If you tell someone you’re writing a book, they ask what it’s about, not where it’s set. It’s not that I don’t like world-building, but I won’t do it just for it’s own sake. It should serve a purpose, and that purpose is the story.

    Besides, I’ve had something in my world-building turn out to be so wrong for the story I was telling that I had to go back and do most of it over again. That made me really wary of how much time I spend on that aspect without tying it all back to the story. 🙂

    • I agree, that it’s the story people ultimately need. Of course your right too about a world needing to be deep. Well, I suppose I just agree with you all around!

      • Thanks. It’s funny, this, coupled with a comment one of my own test readers made recently, has a post percolating in my head for my own blog. If I can tear myself away from writing the last book in the trilogy long enough to put it together in some coherent sense, you’ll probably see it in the next day or two. Maybe, no promises though. You know how I get when I start writing a fresh draft 😀

      • Yay!! 🙂 Get to it! 😛

  8. Very interesting. I had an idea – just the seed of one, and had to build the world for it, because I couldn’t do anything with the idea without a PLACE for the idea. Now I’ve got the idea, the place, and I started a plan. The plan showed me that I needed history, which I outlined in very broad strokes. Now THAT is requiring a story, and I’m having to dive in and do the story. That’s where I’m at, although I hit a wall, so I’m trying to plan a bit more now. Except that I’m having trouble with that.

    Time to do short fiction! 😉 At least for a while.

    I think this post, and the comments, indicate that there really is a back and forth, more than a balance. You have a great place or some neat characters, but then you have to find the characters or the place (whichever you didn’t have). Once you’ve got both, one or the other might need tweaking.

    Is it just me, or is writing a novel like riding a roller coaster? Up, down, twist, turn, and then you find yourself back where you started?

    • I haven’t thought of it that way before, but I see how the roller coaster makes a lot of sense.

      Short fiction is always fun. 😀

      Good luck 🙂

  9. I agree with all of the comments here, particularly Julie and Shannon.

    Myself, I think of writing more as being a documentary cameraman rather than riding on a roller coaster; to me it is more “zoom in” “freeze frame” “establishing shot” “zoom in” “pan”… … …

    As for when one plans, and how much, I plan a broad outline, but then dive into the writing, then, if I need some biology, or language, or astrophysics, I use that as the spur to take a side trip into some research and, if the detail suggests a new direction, I re-visit the plan and see if it needs adjusting.

  10. There are extremes aren’t there. I read something recently, can’t remember where, which was some advice about how to write a book. The person giving the advice said that you should plan your writing down to the tinniest detail from the start, including a full schedule of what and how much you are going to write at each sitting. She said that if you have done your planning correctly, then each time you sit down to write, you should know exactly how many words you are going to write and exactly what is going to happen within those words at that sitting. I just thought how very dull that sounded! I’m not knocking the person who wrote it, because everybody has their own way of doing things that works for them, but for me, part of what I love about writing is the anticipation and excitement of not knowing exactly where it’s going to go. I accept (but don’t necessarily do!) that a certain amount of planning is necessary, but personally I would find it so hard to be motivated to write if there wasn’t some element of surprise left in there for me.

    • I think I agree with you the most, because it’s most similar to me! 😛 I love excitement in my writing. But, I see the need to sit an outline when you hit a rough streak. I do that at least. 🙂

  11. VERY true. Planning is great, but it can be used as an excuse to stall.

  12. Yes, it is true. I just give myself so much time to do the research and planning and then plunge right into the story. I write historical fiction so I have to do a lot of research.

    Sometimes I feel I have not prepared enough but once I get the story going, I know I have, and can always do more checking while I am writing the book.

    Thanks for the great blog, Amber!

  13. Those are sad tales to hear. I wonder if part of it is fear, though. Sometimes planning is a great excuse to avoid the dreaded deed of actually sitting down and writing a story that you might be afraid won’t interest anyone.

    When I first embarked on writing I didn’t just get caught up in the world-building, I got caught up in every aspect of the story. Character development, structure, dialogue, conflict, etc. Then I revised it. Then I revised it again. And again. And again. And…yes, again.

    This happened because I was too afraid to put it out there in public, whether it be a writer’s group or a literary agent. In one respect I wanted more than anything to be a published writer, but the ultimate goal of sharing my work terrified me. So, I kept telling myself ‘it’s not ready yet, go back and revise.’ I felt safe when I was writing the story, but I kept working on it because I was too afraid to be rejected.

    Eventually, I got so tired of not believing in myself enough. But it took a long time to muster up the courage and share it with another person.

    • You know, I think there’s probably something to that fear thing. I mean, when you’re doing all that planing and world-building, everything is still perfect in your mind. The possibilities are endless. But once you start writing, those imperfections that are a part of living and doing anything start to creep in, and you have to settle on one of those possibilities, then worry that you picked the wrong one. It can be intimidating. I think it’s why I used to just jot down ideas. It was easier, more exciting (I thought and was wrong), and I never had to worry about screwing it up because I just didn’t go far enough for that to happen.

      That said, it’s sad to see fear cut short such potential and talent.

    • And we’re all really happy you got tired of being afraid. 🙂 I think so much has to do with fear. I’m glad for us who are becoming brave and hope the others get there soon.

      Julie: i agree. 😦

  14. Coincidentally I was wondering if the authors of classic literature thought about plot and planned their worlds in detail before writing? Am I overthinking the process? Tackling a creative process from the logical angle? I suppose good literature would require a certain degree thought but it should support the writing process and not delay it. Thanks for the interesting post. Cheers!

    • I think that human nature would say they did the same thing. 😀 We haven’t changed too much. Always worrying, always afraid.

  15. I’m back and forth on that too. When I plan too much, I can’t ever get my ideas on paper right. When I don’t plan, things just pop out of left filed and I don’t know where they come from. They forced us to plan in college, and I always did it after the fact. I made my outline after I wrote my story. I always felt like I was doing something wrong though, everyone’s supposed to plan plan plan, outline, character development yadda yadda all before you write but I have honestly never been able to do that. I agree Neeks, it seems to take away a bit of the magic.
    Those are some sad tales indeed though, I hope your teacher and your friend find it within themselves to write their stories.

  16. Very true – great post and great timing. I first heard the phrase writer’s write from Chuck Wendig at Terrible Minds.

  17. I’ve had stories and worlds in my head for years without working on them. Sometimes you need to wait for the right moment to work on them otherwise they don’t come out right. Still…a writer needs to write every day or he accomplishes little. Good post! 🙂

  18. Good advice. Does anything ever turn out as planned? This is better than never getting past the planning stage though. Angie

    • Sorry I’m getting back to you late. I can’t say anything turns out to plan but at least it can come out some way, right?

    • Sorry I’m getting back to you late. I can’t say anything turns out to plan but at least it can come out some way, right?

  19. I fell into that trap a while back. I spent so long putting together the world for a story I had in mind that I just never got it down. Reams and reams of history and racial interactions and languages until someone actually looked at my notes and said ‘You know there has already been a Tolkien, right?’
    I was so horrified to realise what I’d been doing that I just sat down and bashed out the story over the course of a year. The whole thing is something daft like 600k words, a massive epic that really needs to be broken down into a series I suppose, but I must admit… it wouldn’t have been as easy to write without all the background first.
    But who knows how long I would have kept ‘world building’ without that little, unintentional nudge first!

    • Sorry to get back to you late! I love unintentional nudges. The universe always gets us back in line. Congrats on getting it all out!

  20. I’m very much a perfectionist when it comes to writing, which explains why I haven’t written much. I tend to proof as I write, which cuts down on the grammar and punctuation mistakes but shoots me in the foot otherwise. I haven’t done enough writing for world building to get in the way much; however, I started a story a few years ago and only got so far into it because I got bogged down in the plot planning. Maybe I’ll finish it some day.

    • Sorry to get to you late, go for it! You can do it!

      Don’t force yourself to be perfect, you don’t have to be. No one can be.


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