Imagination is a wonderful thing. A major reason that many of us write is to realize the unforgettable characters, gorgeous locations, and killer plots bouncing around in our heads.
The only drawback to having a great imagination is that it’s easier to simply imagine an amazing world than to generate words that evoke the same feelings.
Have you ever tried to put words on the page that don’t feel right? Do you have a folder full of half-baked ideas that would certainly become best sellers if you could only find the right words? I certainly do.
Why does it feel so easy to imagine a complicated world while feeling so hard to write about that world?
This is a call for all you plotters. You’re not alone in this battle.
A word after a word after a word is power.Margaret Atwood
Planning can’t fail
Modifying a plan that isn’t working out can be as easy as closing your eyes and posing a what-if question. What if my protagonist chose to turn left instead of right? What if the heroes actually knew where the villain’s hideout was? What if we added a romantic interest? How would the story change then?
Changing a draft is harder. What if you have fifty-thousand words invested in a certain plot point, and you’re starting to worry that plot point isn’t working out? Are you ready to rewrite or even scrap that work?
Planning is a low-risk part of the creative process. (Thank goodness!) When you plan, you don’t risk anything. Plans aren’t written for other people to look at. They’re written for you, and they’re expected to be malleable and incomplete.
However, if you don’t graduate from a plan and into pages and pages of words, you won’t have the practice needed to improve.
Planning can be easier than writing
Let’s be honest. Imagining a scene is easier than crafting a scene word by word.
Planning is fun! Writing the story that corresponds to the plan is harder.
Translating plans into written scenes takes time and practice. Worse, after all that hard work, it’s still possible to put the scene onto paper and then fall out of love with it.
There are plenty of quotes reminding us that the first draft of anything is garbage. However, when we’re in the throes of agony over our output, we could care less. Sometimes we want to feel like things are coming together, even in a small way, before we can get rolling again.
Fortunately, there is hope!
Practice with smaller plans
If you’ve invested the time into a plan and are intimidated by the scope, try focusing on a tiny, tiny section of the plan. Choose a scene that you’re excited about, and focus all of your attention on that. Forget about the tricky social dynamics you’ll have to sort out, don’t worry if the introductory paragraph has enough of a hook, and don’t think about whether or not the ending will leave readers hungry for more. Just choose the one scene you’re most excited about, and start there.
When you’ve finished with the scene that you’re most excited to write, find the next scene that excites you, and repeat the process.
There’s no rule that says you have to write chronologically. Start with the fun or exciting parts of the story, and build up a collection of scenes. When you have enough fun scenes that you’re excited about, start working on the glue. You might even find the “boring” bits exciting because you know that you’re moving from one exciting scene to another. What could be better for your readers?
If you still find that intimidating, practice writing throwaway scenes using writing prompts. Go into writing with no intention of turning the scene into a published piece. This is for you. If it stinks, it stinks, and that’s fine! Just like a plan, this story is only for you to read. This lets you focus on the craft of writing without worrying about the novel you want to write.