PERSPECTIVES-The Paralysis of Planning

When  I was a kid, I made all kinds of art, wrote tons and tons of stories and comics and plays.

When I was in my twenties and early thirties I was a creative dynamo, just churning out one project after another.

Somewhere in my mid-thirties, I began to get the habit of planning. Now, on the surface this seems like a pretty good idea. For instance, if you are going to collaborate with others, you pretty much have to have a plan of some kind. “Ad hoc” filmmaking is possible (I’ve done it) but the bigger the project, the more necessary it is to put together some sort of cohesive agenda and develop things according to a pre-determined path.

And again, this sounds so very logical. The problem is that frequently creative people get too caught up in planning what they are going to create that they never get around to creating it. There are two perils.

First, we are the very people for whom the term “down the rabbit hole” was invented. We are creative. Therefore our imaginations are usually on all the time. When we approach a project, we can have a tendency to become -shall I say- obsessed with a particular detail or set of details.

I see so many notes on the internet about how writers should approach “world building”. I love world building. It’s a great exercise if you’re making a role playing game, but it’s a means to an end. In all honesty, “world building” can be a great waste of time.

Consider that most people who will read your work live in this world. You may be utterly fascinated how that  interspatial transwarp hypertachyon subdimensional ductwork gets your characters from point A to point B. But really, the audience is going to expect your characters to act and react pretty closely to the way they do in this world. And if they don’t, there should be a good reason for it that makes sense in this world. If that part doesn’t work, you’re imaginative treatment of quantum mechanics is not going to hold anyone’s attention.

Yes, there might actually be a reason to explain how the intercosmic doohickey works, because it may have something to do with your characters and the plot, etc. But the point is, all you really have to do is figure out the part that does matter to the plot, not the 63rd iteration of the subharmonic phase residue interstitial metaflarn that never comes up in the story. The reader won’t care (or shouldn’t if you’re doing your job as a writer) and neither should you. So don’t get lost on it.

The second peril is the belief that you must plan in order to proceed. This is not necessarily so. That is, while it may be helpful to outline, summarize, and plot model, it is not absolutely necessary to the process of getting something done.

Plan to the level that you need to plan to start working. If you get stuck, go back to the plan. If you don’t keep on churning. It is easier to edit content for style, length, consistency, and just plain sense when you actually have content. Don’t get caught up in making the perfect outline, the perfect summary, template, etc.and never starting on the project.  Hitting the second subplot exactly on page 213 may be someone’s idea of a perfect method, but it can make for dull writing.

On the other hand, just meandering (see down the rabbit hole above) for page after page isn’t good either. There’s a point where you have to know what is going to work for you, and use that method. And let no one tell you that you’re doing it wrong. The objective is to deliver the content as required, when required, and hopefully make it interesting.

These observations, by the way, have nothing to do with my totally forgetting to write an entry last week. I was in the midst of getting a new vehicle and the demands on my time precluded this unpaid writing assignment. However, putting to work the “just do it” philosophy as described has managed to get this week’s done.

Photo by Aaron Burden on Unsplash

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