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Overthinking During Planning Phases

DreamSayer

Name's Adam.
So, I know most people would prefer to plan out most of their stories beforeand or during writing their literary works. However, I know first hand that spending too much time on the planning phase can end up siphoning all the motivation you had for even writing to begin with. You start to question every decision you make in the story, start redoing the most simple of sequences and end up frustrating yourself in the process.

So, I ask, at what point does planning becomes over planning and thinking becomes overthinking? And how does one escape from this rabbit hole without making it deeper?
 

FlamingRuby

The magic of Pokemon
For me, overthinking and overplanning is when you feel that you have to plan every possible detail of your world, whether it is important to the story or not.

At that point, just take a step back, and decide what is important to your story right now, and what can be saved for future stories.
 

M-Dub

Μῆνιν ἄειδε θεὰ Πηληϊάδεω ᾿Αχιλῆος
I may have touched on this in the Discord and elsewhere, but my philosophy of planning goes 'planning is boring, writing is more fun - but planning is still useful'. With that in mind, I always start a story freeform. An idea comes into my head and I write until I run out of steam (usually between three and seven chapters), doing the barest of planning in my head to make sure I don't trip myself up.... and then I start locking down a long-term roadmap. That way I have the start of the story in my head already, I've familiarised myself with the characters, I know vaguely where I want to go, and I can properly hash out a plan.

Might not work for anybody, or heck, perhaps it's so daft it only works for me. But it does work for me, by and large.
 

straydelta

Noodlebirb
I used to write out entire outlines for my whole story, and then I'd run into the problem of not wanting to write it anymore because...well, I sort of already just wrote it.

I still struggle now to write because I can't enter a story unless I have an idea of where I want it to go (and I do this with all of my essays, too, for school - I just can't start one unless I know what it is I'm trying to argue). I try to cover my bases, at least, and avoid as many plotholes as possible before jumping in, and figure out at least major points I want to hit. And that's what I try to stick with - an idea, and some "beats" to the story I want to hit (usually how I want the beginning to go, the middle, and then the end). I'm trying to let go of details so that I can have something to enjoy when I start writing.

But really, overthinking/overplanning happens when you realize you don't really want to write the story anymore because you've basically written it all out in an outline.
 

Negrek

Lost but Seeking
This one is tricky, because it's one of those things where how much planning is "overplanning" varies widely by author. Some people do need a quite extensive outline to work from; for some people, it would be a hindrance. It takes some real self-awareness to figure out if you're legitimately working important points out or just procrastinating. One sign would be changing something, or deciding on someting, and then shortly changing it back to the way it was before, although things don't necessarily have to be that severe.

In the vein of what M-Dub said, I think if you suspect you're getting bogged down in planning, it's best to try some writing. Maybe starting from the beginning without a plan won't work for you, but you could try working on a scene or two that you're excited to write or have been looking forward to based on your outline--it might help boost your confidence or remind you why you got interested in this story in the first place. And doing at least some writing can feel like progress, which might help you break out of the planning rut.

If you're feeling particularly brave, you can try writing out some bit that was giving you trouble in the outline; for example, if you're having difficulty figuring out which of two options you should go with in your outline, you can try writing a bit of each and see which seems to work better. Or if you're having trouble outlining through a particular point, you can try writing the scene before it and see if new ideas come to you; sometimes the process of putting words on the page will help you see the way ahead.
 

Manchee

extra toasty
I find this topic ironic because I'm currently trying to rewrite an old fic of mine, and I have four different versions of the opening scene because I cannot decide which is best to go with in the long run, lol. I know the exact way that I would like the story to be structured, but the best way to introduce that structure is not the best way to start the story, I'm finding. Aaaaand now I'm overthinking the whole process and cannot get to the next scenes, even though I really want to write them and know what they're going to be. It is a very frustrating process right now.

To answer your question, I think that thinking and planning become too much when you get stuck and cannot see another possibility to "escape" a scene or part of the plot. When you are so set on writing it one specific way and do not try to work around it, you only dig yourself deeper into that rabbit hole. It's always good to try different ways of getting through a part that you are stuck on writing, even if it seems weird and not what you planned. Sometimes it helps you clear your head and make it through.

Since writing the first part of this post (I wrote it on my Mac at a friend's house this morning, but did not get a chance to finish until now, at my own apartment), I tried yet another new way to start my fic and it seems to be working! It tied in nicely with two of the other starts I attempted to write, and I am very happy with these changes. I can actually still include the first way I wanted it to start, only now I'll include that part at the end of the chapter instead of the beginning - I was so set on it being the opening scene, but through trying a new way at starting this fic, I've found a new way that it can work, a way that I hadn't realized was even an option before. It's fun stuff!
 

Chibi Pika

Stay positive
I used to write out entire outlines for my whole story, and then I'd run into the problem of not wanting to write it anymore because...well, I sort of already just wrote it.
This right here is a really good point, and I actually once read an entire essay on the subject. Basically the way it goes is this: when you accomplish certain things there’s a psychological effect that makes you feel proud of yourself, and which mentally categorizes the thing as “done and good” in your brain. Overplanning (and especially telling people about said plans) is one of those things that makes your brain go “Yay, I did it! Ok, on to the next thing~” Which is of course not what you want! I have an original story that this happened to. I planned out so many aspects of the world that when it came time to finally write some of it, I'd gotten bored.

Of course, that's not to say that planning is bad! Far from it. Just that there are certain dangers to watch out for, like above. Also one other thing to keep in mind is that not only does the necessity of planning vary by author, it varies by genre as well. A slice-of-life or an adventure story can probably get away with being a bit spontaneous. A mystery... probably shouldn't be. I definitely am of the opinion that you should always figure out the ending first, though! No matter the story, knowing the ending ahead of time will make things so much easier, regardless of whether you plan or pants the rest of it.
 

M-Dub

Μῆνιν ἄειδε θεὰ Πηληϊάδεω ᾿Αχιλῆος
This right here is a really good point, and I actually once read an entire essay on the subject. Basically the way it goes is this: when you accomplish certain things there’s a psychological effect that makes you feel proud of yourself, and which mentally categorizes the thing as “done and good” in your brain. Overplanning (and especially telling people about said plans) is one of those things that makes your brain go “Yay, I did it! Ok, on to the next thing~” Which is of course not what you want! I have an original story that this happened to. I planned out so many aspects of the world that when it came time to finally write some of it, I'd gotten bored.*

This effect (I forget the name) comes up a lot in NaNoWriMo discussion as well, because it turns out you can get the same effect from simply telling people that you're doing NaNo. You say you've signed up to write 50,000 words in a month, they go 'wow, that's super cool! good luck!!!' and your brain releases a flood of endorphins that make you feel like you've already achieved something, even if it's still October. That's why some longtime Wrimos advocate for just not telling anybody you're doing it, so you don't fall into the trap.

That said, I'm getting the opposite effect with my current planning stage. I've written out thirty-some chapters of outlines, and I've promised myself I won't write another word on the main body until said outline is finished... but I'm just itching to get back into it now!
 

Samayouru

Rabid Dusclops Fan
That's basically what happened to Balance. Yes, it's my baby and I love it dearly, but I've realised that I tend to swing between one of two extremes: either I plan too little or I plan too much, and Balance definitely falls into the latter category. The former happened with my Digimon fanfic, and I've had to slow down and really think about how I do things with my work. Hence why I'm working on this other project in a way that is more centred, just to see if I can find a proper way to plan without going overboard.

This effect (I forget the name) comes up a lot in NaNoWriMo discussion as well, because it turns out you can get the same effect from simply telling people that you're doing NaNo. You say you've signed up to write 50,000 words in a month, they go 'wow, that's super cool! good luck!!!' and your brain releases a flood of endorphins that make you feel like you've already achieved something, even if it's still October. That's why some longtime Wrimos advocate for just not telling anybody you're doing it, so you don't fall into the trap.

I've pretty much come to the conclusion that doing NaNo really isn't the right way for me to pen a novel, mostly because for a lot of people it's just a case of writing 50,000 words in a month and then not doing anything with it other than getting to say that they've written 50k within a month. I know not everybody is like this, but that's the general feeling I get from a lot of NaNo participants. I've discovered that I'm someone who likes to edit as I write, so taking part in the event really isn't for me any longer. I mean, I'd rather write something and work on it as I go and make something I'm pleased with than to write something I know is garbage, and have to go through the daunting process of cleaning up my mistakes later.
 

Manchee

extra toasty
This effect (I forget the name) comes up a lot in NaNoWriMo discussion as well, because it turns out you can get the same effect from simply telling people that you're doing NaNo. You say you've signed up to write 50,000 words in a month, they go 'wow, that's super cool! good luck!!!' and your brain releases a flood of endorphins that make you feel like you've already achieved something, even if it's still October. That's why some longtime Wrimos advocate for just not telling anybody you're doing it, so you don't fall into the trap.

I can totally see how that would happen. When it did it my first two times, I didn't tell anyone and managed to finish, but when I was going to do it the third time I came up blank and ended up backing out after telling people I was going to try it again. That could have also been because I wanted to rewrite what I wrote the year before with some bigger changes and my brain had that "it's good and done" mentality already, though.

When I did NaNo again a couple months ago, I told a couple people and had more fun than the other years, actually! I didn't over-plan it or think too into what was happening, just started with a rough idea of the beginning, end, and a few specific scenes to get through it, and other than that I just let the story take me along with it all month long. Not sure if that's the best way to do it, but sometimes it's fun to go nearly by the seat of your pants into the situation and not worry too much about it being perfect.
 

DreamSayer

Name's Adam.
This effect (I forget the name) comes up a lot in NaNoWriMo discussion as well, because it turns out you can get the same effect from simply telling people that you're doing NaNo. You say you've signed up to write 50,000 words in a month, they go 'wow, that's super cool! good luck!!!' and your brain releases a flood of endorphins that make you feel like you've already achieved something, even if it's still October. That's why some longtime Wrimos advocate for just not telling anybody you're doing it, so you don't fall into the trap.

So, that explains why I always feel a lot less like writing whenever I discuss certain things I want to add to my stories with other people. I had never realized this before. I suppose I should start talking less about what I'm going to do than what I've already done.
 
Well, planning might be a good behaviour to make sure you have the goal in check all the time...but i personally found that often its way easier and more efficent to put things straight down to paper and then adjust accordingly to your needs, rather than trying to write perfectly from the beginning. Indulging in your mind-flow often results in the most original and genuine ideas, which then can be refined and adapted to the original idea.
 
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