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How to Avoid Over Planning Your Novel

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It’s good to have plans. Knowing what your novel will be about will definitely help you stay focused in your writing. Like all good things: moderation is key. 

Yes, you really can over plan a novel. While that may seem hard to believe, too much planning can be a bad thing.

Are You Guilty of Planning Instead of Writing?

It’s not always easy to recognize when you have a planning addiction, and admitting to yourself you have a problem is always harder.

Consider this a friendly non-judgmental intervention. I’ve totally planned WAY more than necessary for all sorts of writing projects to the point of my own detriment. I’m not judging you, and I don’t want you to feel bad about it. 

I just want to help. 

Here are 3 Obvious Signs you Planned Your Novel Just a Little Too Much:

  1. Your outline for your novel is over 20 pages long.
  2. You know your characters better than your closest family or friends.
  3. You have spent a week or longer planning for the novel

Don’t worry, if all of these three things sound like you, there is hope for you yet! 

Why is Over-Planning a Novel a Bad Thing?

A good plan is like a map for what direction your story will take. But if the map is not clear and concise, it may get tricky to navigate later. 

When we look up directions on our GPS, we only need to know about the road we’re on. Traveling forward can get complicated if we lose our way because we’re sidelined with distractions. Do you really need to know the topography and geological plate data to drive down the highway?

The time spent planning is writing time lost.

Every hour you spend planning for your novel, you could have been writing.

If you consider how much time it takes to write a book, the planning phase should only be a small percentage of the picture. 

Planning can cause creative anxiety.

You may feel pressure to write the “perfect” novel, and as a result end up writing nothing at all.

Nobody enjoys being under pressure. Sometimes we put the harshest demands and expectations on ourselves. If you have the “perfect plan”, you may not be able to execute it quite like you envisioned.

You might feel forced to write.

 You may find it harder to write something that you planned than it would have been had you written it spontaneously.

I do my best writing without even thinking about what I’m writing. Oh sure, it’s definitely going to be a mess to revise and edit later, but it’s usually a fun and natural process.

You may dread writing a scene if it has to meet strict criteria. Worse, the creative genius in you might decide on page 47 to completely change the direction of the story.

Your writing style may seem forced, instead of the natural and reflective of your unique creative voice.


Finding the Balance: Plan Responsibly

You can and should have a plan for your novel before you start writing. You just need to remember to practice balance and moderation.

Here are some ways to help you avoid over planning

1. Choose the Right Planning Method for You 

In our article 6 ways to plan a novel, we cover some of the popular ways to plan your novel. Choose a method that is easy for you to do, and doesn’t get you so caught up in planning that you forget to write.

2. Keep it Brief.

You do not need to outline what your character wore in every single scene or even write out long descriptions of the setting. Remember you’ll be writing that as the book unfolds – no need to include it in your plan.

If necessary, jot down notes but your initial planning sessions should not go into every single detail of every scene. 

3. Set a Timer or a Deadline.

If you’re doing research for your novel, set a timer so you do not spend the entire afternoon on Pinterest, YouTube, Google or Wikipedia for the sake of “research”.

Never spend more than a week planning and organizing the details of your novel. An oven timer or even an app on your smart phone can be great for setting an alarms to tell you when to stop.


Do you ever feel as if you’ve over planned a novel? What was your experience? Do you have any tips for avoiding over planning to write a novel? Share your thoughts in the comments below!

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3 thoughts on “How to Avoid Over Planning Your Novel”

  1. I find it very hard for me to plan my writing at all. I just want to sit down and write! Though in order to avoid writer’s block I know some planning is important!

    Reply
  2. Is it wrong that I find the planning process more enjoyable than the actual writing?

    When planning and writing a 20-page-long synopsis for my novels, I just have the most fun I could ever had! So the thing is that both the novels I am currently writing are setted in time and space settings that demand a LOT of research. One novel tells the story of a Portuguese boy in the 19th century wandering about the Galicia. The other tells the story of an arabian princess in the 12th century. And thus I simply love spending days and days searching little historical quirks, details and facts – actual dates, names, kingdoms, dynasties etc.

    But at the end of the day I’m not writing as much as I’d like to. How then not to get overwhelmed with all the research and with the necessity of historical precision?

    Reply

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