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How to Beat the Planning Heebie-Jeebies

December 11th, 2012 Matt Leave a comment Go to comments
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I’m starting a new project, and I’m apprehensive. I’ve stalled on projects because I realise I’ve not done enough planning. So this time I will do more outlining. But there could be a problem…

The best laid plans…

Yes, I think of myself as an outliner or planner, but often I realise halfway through my story my plan leaves a lot to be desired. “Hang on,” I think, “if I carry on in this direction the ending will make no sense whatsoever!” or “this character has nothing to them!”

Which makes me think, given I think I’m a planner, how is it I’ve not been planning enough?


Scary stabby pins of corkboard planning! Image courtesy of Jack Tinney on Flickr.

We often talk about being afraid of the blank page or of returning to work to edit it, or of finishing, or of success… but could it be some of us are also afraid of planning?

Really? Don’t we have enough to keep us awake at night?

For the sake of argument, and in the interests of overcoming said fears should they exist, let’s examine what these fears might look like…


  1. Planning is beginning – Let’s not forget planning represents starting something new, and that in itself is a little frightening. This is especially true of those people just coming off a big novel. You might have spent years on this thing and now you’ve got to pack up shop and start all over again! Daunting.

    But remember: You’ve done it before, and so you can do it again! And you’re not doing the whole project all at once. Everything, no matter how huge is accomplished in little steps. You’re taking the first step and that’s all you have to concern yourself with now.

  2. Setting the ending in stone – People are frightened of ending a project too, and writing your ending down, even in planning, might feel a bit like that.

    But some people are afraid of committing to a specific ending. Writing is always a voyage of discovery, and there is a feeling characters should take over as you write, driving events and naturally inventing an ending.

    From that perspective, planning out your ending can seem wrong to some people, and there may be the worry it ends up sounding contrived.

    What if the story takes a completely different turn as you write? What happens to your perfectly sculpted ending then?

    Horror of writing fears!

    Feeel the feeear! Image courtesy of u-JU on the Flickr.

    But remember: your ending should naturally fall out of the characters and events as you place them in your planning. So if you follow the plan, it shouldn’t seem contrived.

    And if you do deviate form the plan – don’t worry! Sometimes this happens. Nothing generates new ideas like actually writing, and you’ll be doing a lot of that, so don’t be surprised if it takes you off the path. Just because you’ve planned something, doesn’t mean it’s set in stone. You may find you have to tweak your plan. So be it.

  3. Over planning – Something I do worry about is over planning, and this is perhaps why I don’t do as much planning as I should, even though I’m telling myself I’m doing a lot!

    There is the fear that by planning out many details of your story, you take the vibrance out of it, squeezing it dry of inspiration.

    But remember: this doesn’t actually happen. At least, not in my experience. I’ve just got to keep telling myself this! I’ve never planned so much there’s nothing left to write. But then, you also have to think about how you feel about the project…

  4. Losing interest – Yes, there is the fear you yourself might lose interest in the project. Could it be planning too much means you grow bored of it? Are you going to yawn if you know what’s going to happen yourself already?

    But remember: New material falls out of your head all the time when you write. Maybe this fear is valid, I don’t know. But again I have to say I have never encountered it. Instead, what I find is however much I’ve planned a scene, something always surprises me. It may be a detail I like, a secret a character reveals to me, or a twist I hadn’t anticipated. So why would I lose interest?

  5. Procrastinating – usually fear is a form of procrastination for writers. But fear of procrastination? We may have just gone down the rabbit hole friends.

    Yes, I’ve suffered from this strange worry. There is a nagging question – am I now just planning to avoid writing? And how do you know, really? I am done when I have enough to write the story, sure. Yet I still get partway through a project before I realise I didn’t do enough.

    But remember: that option is at least still open to you. If you feel like you’ve done enough planning to start the project, I still say go for it. I am confident that when I have enough projects behind me I will understand when I’ve done enough planning. Until then, I have to recognise I can plan forever, but it won’t get my story written.

So, some more fears to add to your list. You wanted more of them, right?

Well, er, never mind. At least you know what to look out for, and I hope those “remember” snippets help you out of some holes.

Over to you:
but we’re not done yet – I bet there’s something else about planning that keeps you awake at night, trembling under your covers! Or maybe you have some advice on how to conquer these damnable fears. The comments section is your friend!

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  • Craig

    Oh Matt, there you go with your planning again…

    Seriously though, one of the problems I have is that I really really suck at making notes. I’ve mentioned this before – and I’m fortunate at being able to keep stuff in my head – but sitting down and making notes, like hand written notes? I suck at that.

    I equally suck at typing notes, because I feel a real disconnect with that, like I should be typing something worthy that I can integrate into the actual text. So I guess I fail all round.

    In terms of setting the ending down… Well, I usually know how a piece is going to end, I just usually don’t know how its going to get there. Kinda tricky to get that balance, especially when those damnable characters keep going off and doing their own things.

    • http://getmewriting.com Matt Roberts

      The story I’m working on now I thought I had the ending all in my head. For some reason the act of writing out the story step by step changed that. Now I have a different ending!

      I guess you never really know what you’re goign to get when you sit down to write, no matter what kind of writing it is!