Who overthinks?

I’ve come to the realisation that over-thinking, when combined with a lack of discipline can be fatal to the progress of one’s work.

We’re in October now , not too far from November and the realisation that I likely won’t finish my novel this year is rather damning. Alas I have no one to blame but myself.

14 chapters, a little over 52,000 words written but not yet complete! I sometimes go in circles with my thought pattern, or magically find a better way in which the story can be carried forward in either the main plot or the sub-plot. The sub-plot is causing me more consternation than the main plot!

Plan plan plan, think think, idea, think. Huzzah, sit down and write a few sentences…ah, I need toothpaste! Better go get some!

^^ Just an example :slight_smile:

So, can anyone else relate?

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I resemble these remarks… :smiley:

Overthinking leads to disaster. I try my best to avoid it. If I feel like I’m kind of stuck somewhere, I move away to do something else. Give my head some rest and get back later with a clear mind.

Who overthinks?

Hmm. Let me think about that.

The trick that always works for me is thinking: “This is a first draft. Write it. You cannot improve on anything, until it exists.”

That and having the story plotted out, so I know where I’m going. I once tried pantsing a story, and it was horrible. Just slipping and sliding all over the place.

That’s kind of brilliant.

That’s smart, too, but what appears ironic to me here is that this thinking, and the earlier thinking, are in many ways mutually exclusive. The words ‘write it’ in the first advice imply ‘just write it’ which implies not being concerned about bigger picture concepts and just letting your art flow. That’s exactly what a pantser does.

I had a bit different experience. I always wanted to write but never did. Then one day I decided to, on a lark, thinking I would delete the document when finished playing around. It funneled me into 12 days of doing nothing else, and I had a complete 60K-word scaffolding of what is now a trilogy.

Of course I dodged a bullet while pantsing 100%, because I could have had a story idea that did not work, so I got lucky there. The point is that pantsing can work, and it does work for many of us. And of course it took 4 years of hard work (so far) to improve the thousands of mistakes from that draft and flesh it out.

The thing is, pantsing and plotting are not all that different. Pantsing IS plotting, except doing it inside the drafts. And if a plotter looks at the process of plotting, there is typically a great deal of ‘slipping and sliding all over the place’ during that plotting.

We all are aware of the negative word Hemingway used to describe what ‘all first drafts are’. He was right.

Plotting has it’s advantages. It’s more efficient, it takes less total time, and it has more of a guarantee of being a story that works. 60K words that don’t work could be 12 days mostly wasted (but then 12 days of plotting has no guarantee of leading anywhere, either).

For me, I find plotting overly restrictive. It’s like not allowing yourself to make mistakes. Writing now being a fully non-destructive medium allows one to make as many mistakes as they need to, while not under penalty. True, I have to do a lot of finding of mistakes and correcting them, but it is a process that works.

So now that I’m not such a neophyte as I was then, I think ‘Plot as much as you can, but then pants like they’re on fire’.

That’s a fair point, but there’s also a difference between making decisions about plot, structure, etc. up front before you get into the writing flow and making them during the writing flow. I believe that the advice “write it” isn’t merely “just write it,” but something more like this:

  • Make your decisions up front while you’re in the “deciding” frame of mind
  • Once you have your decisions made, write to them as best as you can – but NO EDITING. If something you decided isn’t working, make notes, change to the new decision point as if that was how you’d always decided it, and keep writing until the draft is done. (AKA course correction)
  • Once your draft is done, use your notes to go edit the discontinuities that arose during your writing.
  • Now you can evaluate how well your decisions and course corrections worked overall for the draft.

As you point out, writing requires a combination of plotting and pantsing. No matter how good one is at plotting, sometimes what you are writing sparks the necessary creativity to come up with a better solution. The trick is finding the particular mixture for you that keeps you at your optimum. Sort of like tuning the fuel/air mixture in an engine, really.

Not nonsense; just not linear.Yes, such moments are magical. I have one character who walked up to me while I was staring at a blank screen on the first day of NaNoWriMo and said, “Hey, chica, this story going to be about me.” I’m almost afraid to publish her because she’s not my ethnicity (what with all the Politically Correct stuff going around) but she’s one of my favorite characters.

P.S. The word “pantsing” comes from “writing (flying) by the seat of one’s pants” and is popular among NaNoWriMo participants, but another term I’ve heard is “discovery writing.”

Not nonsense at all! I found a very similar phenomenon happened for me with technical writing. There, of course, it’s easier to start with a populated outline, but inevitably as you were writing you would get insight into a section that wasn’t as clear in your head yet, or realize you needed a completely different approach.

I firmly believe that there are four main processes in writing, that need to all be addressed at various times within the lifecycle of a manuscript:

  1. Planning – what do I want to write? What do I know about what I want to write?
  2. Research – what do I need to know about what I want to write?
  3. Writing – what do I have to actually say about what I want to write?
  4. Revising – what do I need to rethink about what I have written?

And each writer needs to come up with the proper mix and flow of these phases. The whole point is to find the sustainable pattern for you so that you’re not impeding your own creativity.

I firmly believe all successful writers (that is, writers who complete projects and learn from their mistakes) are somewhere on the spectrum between panster and plotter. And I disbelieve that there is a single successful writer that truly 100% makes everything up on the fly or truly 100% plots rigidly and never deviates from that plot. That may be the discipline during the first draft, but you need both skills to work through the lifecycle of the manuscript.

I see what you mean.

What I meant by “Just write it” is this:
Yes, I plan the story. I get a sense of where the story should go, what scenes I want in it, what twists etc. During this process there is - as you wrote - a fair deal of rearranging and slipping and sliding, but once the planning is done, I have a structure without plotholes and with characters that react naturally to events.

That said, I don’t plan out the scenes in extreme detail. It could be something as simple as “Character A has a conversation with character B. Character B shows her a secret hideout.” What is important is, that my characters don’t act out of character. That a peaceful character doesn’t suddenly become extremely violent. That a shy character doesn’t suddenly act very brave etc.

In other words: When I then start writing the actual story, I can just “set the characters free”, and they will become alive and act freely and still not break the scene and take the story in an unexpected direction.

That was what I meant by “Just write” - make a story structure and then set the characters free and just write. I guess you could say that I’m a structure plotter but a pantser when it comes to evertything else.

Best analogy I heard for writing was:

Write the 1st draft like Han Solo “Never tell me the odds” as he dives headfirst into an asteroid field.

Re-draft like Yoda “You must unlearn what you have learned”

If only I could actually do that! :smiley:

I can certainly agree with this. My very first attempt at a novel was just “start and write”. I won;'t even tell you how much time was spent later tangling with character actions that conflicted with the beginning of the story, or dead-end rabbit holes that had to now be unwound, or manipulated to fit with 20,000 words of prior material. :open_mouth: My then wife was a practicing Psychologist. Way down in the middle of writing the novel, I’m picking her brain, and discussing at length…sometimes spread over weeks…the motivations of the main character. That was truly the wrong place to be hashing out how my character was going to act. I still love the finished story to this day, but I would never write like that again. I want to have a fairly complete understanding of my character, before I touch fingers to keyboard. That doesn’t guarantee that all obstacles or dead-ends will disappear. They’ll. just be much easier to navigate with some pre-planning and analysis.

Over the weekend, I started a new story. That’s not totally true. I’ve had the “itch” for a broad, sweeping political/mystery/murder story for about a month. I couldn’t even express it in more than a single sentence in a Scrivener file that I call “Future Story Ideas”…an “incubator” file with index cards and 1-2 sentence synopsis that very, very broadly outline a potential idea. Some become something. Some just get old, and eventually die…or my writing interests change.

There are a dozen major entities (companies, individuals, countries, governments) that have a potential place in this story that finally jelled. And, there are at least that many overarching plot lines that might be developed to tell this story. But, in each plot line, the major players could be reacting much differently…supporting a particular view in this storyline, but being against that viewpoint in another storyline. Today, I’m zeroing in on the particular winning storyline…the one that is most interesting and which offers the most intrigue.

However, in order to keep one of the other storylines from creeping into a character’s viewpoint, I set up a quick spreadsheet with each character, and a paragraph that describes how that character is to react in the selected plot. In subsequent cells, there are some snippets either to think about, or remember, as I write…some of the detail stuff.

And, for bonus points, I’ve linked the Google sheets to my Scrivener document. :mrgreen:

In another day or two, I should be ready to broadly outline the full thread of events from start to finish. The Corkboard and Outliner are excellent for this process, allowing me to drag broad sections around, and order them for the best reader experience. Then, as Jacob Hero pointed out, the characters can be set free to be themselves, in the moment as the actual chapter and/or scene writing begins.

The point of this “birthing” experience, is that I don’t diminish the excitement or importance of “getting to the writing”. However, a few days of contemplating and mentally playing with storylines certainly helps me. I’m no expert, and that’s why I need a roadmap to follow. However, I certainly do seem to write more calmly, knowing where my story and characters are going.


I have only written one novel - a humourous one - and it started because I just got an idea about the main character.

It was a strange experience and the only way I could describe it is that I followed the fellow and wrote what he went through, what he did and what he said. I had no idea where the story was going and where it would end.

I even followed him into a very dangerous “cul-de-sac” and couldn’t see how on earth he would get out of it. I realised that this couldn’t go any further. So I stopped writing. Several days went by without any further possibilities. I began to accept the fact that the story was a total “no-go”.

Sitting quietly, gazing across a seascape one evening, it hit me. The escape route was so simple that I could hardly believe it. The story came back to life and I followed it to the end.

I wish this would happen again! (And many more times!)

It’s a great experience, when it happens. Hope there are more for you!

…and, I could use a couple of those ideas! :open_mouth:


Do I have to say so publicly? Is there some sort of private confessional available??