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The Struggle Bus -- Planning vs. Writing

Today I'm struggling, so it's time for another one of these posts.

As if I'm not struggling every day. I'm a writer, after all.

Writers always struggle to write. What we don't usually struggle with is planning. I've written before about pantsers (someone who writes by the seat of their pants) vs. plotters (someone who outlines their work, usually painstakingly, before beginning to write), and while I'm a proud pantser, I do like having some idea of what I'm going to write.

Don't let me confuse you: I still don't outline anything. Even when I "plan," it's barebones at best; I decide what the content will be, but the majority of the details are always left for the moment I sit and start typing. I like the idea of a plan for the sense that I'm getting my ducks in a row because it makes me feel better about myself. For example, I planned this post about six months ago. I have a list of topics I want to talk about in this "Struggle Bus" series, so I listed them within this blog and then I left them in my drafts where the majority will live for... ever?

I've got my story ideas -- like the blog posts I intend to publish -- scattered across many platforms, including Pinterest, flashdrives, Google Docs, and, like, four different computers. I'm good at gathering. Gathering is the exciting part. When I have a great idea, I like to gather all my thoughts about it into one place. This is to procrastinate.

And so the problem becomes that you do so much planning you're not, you know, writing.

Characters are the easiest to get caught up in, in my opinion. My reading style is character-driven, so when I read a story, I have to like the characters. That's why when I'm writing, I spend a lot of time developing my own. I think about their backstory. I Frankenstein their personalities from people I know, actors I admire, and other story characters I've loved in the past. I even cast the actors who will play them in the yet-to-be-made movie based off my novel. And while I'm doing all of this, I'm having fun, getting lost in a fantasy world of my own making. I'm creating. This is what I'm good at! I am an artist! But am I writing?

Characters are the biggest hurdle this writer faces, but thankfully it's really the only one. Not being a planner in the traditional sense has its advantages, but it does require an extra push to sit down and Do The Thing. Sitting in front of a blank page with a whole novel to get out of your head is daunting, no matter how or how much you plan, so you'd rather not. Instead you start daydreaming about acquiring the power to make the whole novel appear straight from your brain onto the page, just as you intended it to be written, and then you start daydreaming about magical powers, and then you start planning The Next Bestselling high fantasy novel of our generation, and then before you know it you've spent an hour or so still doing no actual writing.

But planning that high fantasy novel was such a rush. You could totally write high fantasy if you wanted to. You're even considering switching genres and reworking your whole career. Wow, this is exciting.

At the end of the day, planning and thinking about the end result is the gigantic high all writers get. Doing the work is the job, and it's wrought with lows as well as highs. You're writing! Ew, that line was so cringe. You worked out that one dreaded plot hole! Maybe this story is going nowhere. Yes, it's all coming together! What if you're wasting your time on a project no one will want to read? You're in too deep now -- just keep writing! You're probably the worst writer alive.

Et cetera.

On the surface, having a large project ahead of you is just a task you don't always want to undertake, honestly. It's a lot of writing. It's a lot of work. And nearly all of us will struggle with a rocky first line, which is even more frustrating, makes you not want to start at all.

But I also believe it's deeper, deep in our brains, where our self-worth lives. I plan -- or, my version of plan -- to feel like I can tackle my project, to hype myself up about it, and to distract myself from all of those lows that I know are coming. Part of the creative process is questioning your abilities, no matter how seasoned you might be. That's not fun, but that's what we face when we write.

I don't always have a solution in these "Struggle Bus" posts, but I try to come up with one on occasion, or at least share what works for me. I'm a broken record that's stuck on the words "just do it"; I'm sorry, but it's been the only thing to work for me. It's so difficult and so simple all at once. In the past I've been frozen in plan mode, going months without actually writing, let alone finishing a novel. Now, I write every single day, I've published a novel, and I've completed one-and-a-half manuscripts. I still get bogged down in planning (which is why that pesky little "and-a-half" is there, grrr), but I know that once I do it, I'm going to accomplish something.

I hate that I don't have different advice. If you have a different strategy that you or someone else has found success with, shoot me a message. I'd love to hear it. In fact, I'm already planning a future blog post with a list of all the different bits of advice for getting over the planning/writing hurdle.

I'm not kidding. I just got really excited about it.

In the end, I have no choice but to write. I love the satisfaction of a completed work. I'm in love with my characters and love to see them on the page. I love the art of it. I love being a member of this community of creatives, talking about the craft. I love planning my list of stories I will one day write. Writing itself?

Meh, it's okay.

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