Are You Planning Out Your Story Too Much?

Writing spontaneously is exciting. A lot of the time, you really don’t know what’s going to happen next.

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Sometimes, planning out a story before writing it is what pushes people to create amazing things.

But is it possible to overdo it, and plan too much?

Absolutely.

There are advantages and disadvantages to doing a little bit of planning before you start writing. But you should never plan in so much detail that you lock yourself into commitments you aren’t sure you will be willing to keep.

Let your ideas unfold

The story you start writing won’t be the story you finish writing. That’s pretty much inevitable … unless you do a little too much planning. I started ghostwriting a series of novellas a few months ago for a client, and in order to do that, I had to first submit chapter-by-chapter outlines of how the story was going to go. At first, I liked it. Then I started writing, and really found that I didn’t like it so much. It felt way too limiting.

To me, coming up with new ideas as I go along s fun. I love watching ideas expand, which you can’t really do as effectively if you lock yourself into a strict outline. Some people, once they have that outline in front of them, can’t stray from that, which is just how some people’s brains operate. If that’s you, I would recommend outlining major plot points, but leaving the connecting elements a mystery.

Surprise yourself

Normally, I don’t like surprises. Except when I’m surprising myself. That doesn’t happen on purpose, and really the only time it happens is when I’m in the middle of writing a story and just come up with something I feel is really awesome or clever (come on, you know you’ve had those moments). I’ve noticed this happens much less often when I’m writing off of an outline.

Writing spontaneously is exciting. A lot of the time, you really don’t know what’s going to happen next. As I have been writing a series of novellas this year for The Novella Concept, because I write them so quickly, I don’t have time to plan anything out other than the major theme that corresponds with whichever charity I’ve chosen to donate the royalties to. So when all of a sudden a character does or says something even I didn’t expect, I am reminded that every once in awhile, not planning ahead really is okay.

Push your story out of its own comfort zone

Does planning out your story before you start writing it make you feel safe? Confident? Reassured? Excellent: this is a good reason you SHOULD plan ahead. The only problem is, we can’t get TOO comfortable. In order to grow as a writer, remember that sometimes means you’re going to have to stretch yourself a little. An outline has the potential to prevent you from stretching.

What I have learned in the past five months or so is that it’s when I write something that makes me go, “No, character, don’t do that,” I enjoy my writing time so much more. Sometimes it’s uncomfortable, sometimes I start to second guess myself, but then I just shrug it off and let what will happen, happen. I’ve written some of my best fiction this year (compared to previous years) because of this. It isn’t always going to feel safe. That’s what makes it so worth it.

Don’t feel bad if you are someone who needs to plan in detail. There’s nothing wrong with doing it that way. Just remember to let yourself go off course every once in awhile. Let yourself have a little fun. Whichever way you do it, it’s still all yours. Just don’t limit yourself to an original outline. It’s okay to let your creativity take over.

Meg is the creator of Novelty Revisions, dedicated to helping writers put their ideas into words. She is a freelance writer and an eight-time NaNoWriMo winner with work published in Teen Ink, Success Story, Lifehack and USA TODAY College. Follow Meg on Twitter.

Image courtesy of creativecrossroadsofamericas.org.

Summer 2015 Camp NaNoWriMo Packing Checklist

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Five days remain before you’re assigned to a cabin and can start getting settled. July 1 seems like it’s awfully far away, but you know how time flies.

If this is anything like summer camp IRL—okay, it’s not, but work with me here—you probably shouldn’t wait any longer to start packing your virtual suitcase.

Thankfully, no one likes packing, so I’ve compiled a list of things you’ll want to remember to bring with you to Camp.

Ready—set—pack!

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(Rough) plot outline

You don’t need to know exactly where you’re story is going to—in fact, not knowing how all the pieces of your story fit together when you start is half the fun. It’s a good idea to have a general direction to travel in, though. It can be as simple as one crumpled-up Post-It note with key plot points listed on it.

Coffee, tea or snacks

You might need something to keep you awake, but you might also need something to remind yourself you’re still a living, breathing human who has basic biological needs. If you’re on a roll, sometimes hours can go by before you realize it’s past dinnertime and you haven’t stopped to feed your brain. (I’d gone on a rant about choosing healthy snacks, but alas, I’ll refrain.)

Running shoes

Excuse me, what? Yes, have a pair of good tennis shoes/running shoes/sneakers (wherever you are, whatever you call them) nearby. You won’t need to run from your own villains—they’re make-believe, remember. But as you write, you’ll have “brain droughts” and need to give yourself time to refresh. Get outside for a while and do something active to set your thoughts in healthy motion.

B.U.G. spray

Otherwise known as, “bashful ubiquitous ghost” spray. Ever wonder where that sudden onset of doubt and panic while working on your novel comes from? Bashful, ubiquitous ghosts like to think they’re hanging around to help you, but they’ll only slow down your progress. They build nests in our brains and make us believe we’re writing mush instead of gold, and B.U.G. spray is the only way to keep them at a safe distance from your writing space.

Check out Camp NaNo’s writing resources for more tips on how to boost your literary confidence and get your ideas ready to play nice. 

Calendar

A great way to track your Camp progress, if the built-in stats tracker isn’t enough to keep you going, is to create your own month-long calendar to write down your daily word goals and motivate yourself to reach them (and reward yourself for passing them, on a really good day). This can also be a nice creative DIY project to keep you occupied while you’re waiting for July to hurry up and get here already.

Distraction eraser

If it’s not your phone, it’s the wireless Internet connection on your laptop. Distractions are the number-one cause of NaNo non-winnery (or at least, I like to believe so), but you don’t have to fall into the trap. Apps like OmmWriter can help you keep your Camp project in focus and at the top of your priority list (I happen to like it, no OmmWriter beasts are compensating me for saying so).

Last but not least—this didn’t make the actual list, but it’s worth mentioning—you are more than welcome to join me on this fun-filled literary adventure! Maybe we’ll even be able to “meet up” once cabin assignment day arrives!

So what are you waiting for? Sign up and start packing!

Love&hugs, Meg<3

Logo courtesy of Camp NaNoWriMo.org.

Images courtesy of Novelty Revisions.

A recent graduate with a B.A. in English and a completed major in nutrition, currently seeking a graduate degree in health communication, Meg is a twenty-something workaholic with a passion for writing, coffee and dietetics. In addition to her status as an aspiring novelist and Grammar Nazi (and the mastermind behind this site), Meg is an editor for College Lifestyles magazine and a guest blogger for Food & Nutrition Magazine’s Stone Soup.  She is a seven-time NaNoWriMo winner and has written several creative pieces for Teen Ink magazine. Follow Meg on Twitter.