Plan more or write more?

msstice

200 words a day = 1 novel/year
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My first draft is done. Kind of. I have the entirety of my story that I want to tell in the first book, but there are gaps. My plan was to take a step back and read through the whole thing once before starting revisions. I got through the first two chapters then got ideas for what a few other books could be like, and I wrote those down. Then I had an idea for a major tweak to the backdrop of the story - it doesn't change that much of the plot, but IMO makes things more interesting. Now, having only gotten about 5% of the way through the book, I feel like I should keep writing. Like, I should get back in knee deep and bang out another revision, rewriting as I go.

This is tearing me apart. One part of me is saying "This is impulsive you, always doing things without a plan. First read the whole thing, then start with the revision" and the other part is saying "Stop procrastinating, just get writing."

I'm sure this is a very personal decision and no answer is wrong or correct, but what do you do in this situation?
 
Okay, I'll bite! Firstly, you say that there "are gaps", so have you really finished the first draft:? How much more needs to be written to complete it? Can someone else actually read it as a full draft, as is?

I do think there will be a point where you know that your manuscript is "complete". On the other hand, if you read it and it generates new ideas constantly and you worry about changing stuff., then I think it feels like it is "undercooked" it is therefore not complete!

And...honestly, we can forever change our writing over time and never complete it. So you have to draw a line in the sand. New ideas at that point should go into new projects. Otherwise you will be caught in a infernal loop of tinkering.


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@msstice

Just to add to your "depends" statement...

For me it also depends on what I'm revising and what would be affected.

If I'm trying to perfect narrator or character voice, or tone or anything where the prose is having a material effect on the overall project, I revise. I do it because if I can get that nailed early, when I go back to writing the rest of it, my unwritten portion of the first draft will require less revision when it's completed. I use those first chapeters as a template. But I only do this if voice and tone etc are big concerns to me. Typically, I plan because the mistakes are usually somewhere in there.

If the issues are theme, plot, conflict related, etc, I'm gong to go back to planning. If plot, conflict, characters are an issue(s), it usually tracks back to the first one, theme. Theme issues being: theme too unclear, characters don't explore theme, setting doesn't exploit theme, scene doesn't explore or exploit theme, those sorts of things. And I find planning and outlining are the most efficient ways to correct theme issues, before taking up the manuscript and writing a ton of brilliant prose, but wandering farther off track.

Sorry, I know that's pretty general, but that's all I can offer given the info at hand.
 
Would you  really have come to those conclusions, had those better ideas, if you'd planned more before starting writing? If so then yes, more planning would have been a good idea. For many of us, those better ideas only come after we start writing, start creating the world our characters inhabit. It's less a case of personal preference or opinion, more a case of how the creative part of the mind works for that particular individual.

If you're asking if you should go back and incorporate your better ideas, then absolutely you should. If as you say its only minor tweaking, then most of what you have already written can still be used, so it isn't wasted. And to have these ideas when you are only 2 chapters in is almost the same as having them before you started writing.

From what you have posted, it sounds like you made the right choice to crack on and start writing.
 
It's also hard to know what people mean by "revision." Everyone has their own process there too. And some mean "rewrite."
 
For many writers, I think, the ratio of planning to writing may change throughout a given story. Sometimes it might be about fifty-fifty, sometimes it may slant more toward one than the other, and then switch.

What would I do in your situation? I would do both planning and writing, as the spirit moved me at any given point.

What should you do? I think you should do whatever feels right, whatever works for you, and not worry about what you "ought" to be doing instead.

If and when that stops working, then do something else.
 
This is impulsive you, always doing things without a plan.
That sounds like me.
Personally, I would write, but then I'm a pantser and much of my "planning" happens when I'm writing, so I would get on and explore the new idea. I might even do that even if the new idea wasn't going to be used in the current book, because I would want to test it out whilst fresh in my mind.
 
Just collecting these (as usual) very thoughtful statements together:
If the issues are theme, plot, conflict related, etc, I'm gong to go back to planning.

For many of us, those better ideas only come after we start writing,

I think you should do whatever feels right

I‘d write and try to be kind to myself by understanding the creative process is generally wild and untamed

much of my "planning" happens when I'm writing

All I can say is same for me. I had an outline before I started writing (I was following the snowflake method). It was an important device to get started, but I deviated a lot from that outline (like a lot. I'd say the only common thing left now from that 5 yo outline is some people live in the asteroid belt). I did not realize how important the details of what I put in were to my (re)creating the story.

I will dive back in.

There was a question about "rewriting" vs "revising". I'm mostly a reviser, and I rewrite when I come across something that is not working. I think the vast majority of this story works. It still excites me, the characters motivations are clear and the overall theme is what I want. Its a lot of cleaning up flow and sprinkling in flavor now and making the tweaks that go with changing the perspective of the backdrop.

This last backdrop changing bit, to avoid being annoyingly coy, is as follows (couching this if it were a sword and sorcery story): A magic staff has appeared in the hero's field. Eventually the magic staff gets out of control and wreaks havoc and the story is what we do about it.

In the old version everyone has magic staffs but the new staff is a slightly different and evil one.

I don't have compelling reasons for why everyone has magic staffs. It allowed me to start the story ominously, with characters dismissing the staff because it feels like a familiar thing. But I didn't write a suspenseful story where the staff starts out innocuous and we slowly figure out it is terrible: Bad things happen and we figure out it's the staff right away.

As I was writing, new characters suddenly appeared that wanted to use the staff for selfish gain, even though it is destroying their world. I liked the tension these new characters introduced. This in turn made me think that making the staff a completely new and strange thing will improve dramatic effect: Here's strange "magic". Ooh, can we use it? No, leave it alone! Oh no! It's destroying the world! We have to get rid of it! No! I want the power for myself!

It works both ways, but has more contrast the more alien the power is (I think).
 
One thing that I have found useful when going over a story is to create an outline. I find that this helps provide me with focus and avoid over explaining details. I like spreadsheets, so I will create a table with a row for every chapter. I have columns for chapter number, a brief synopsis, PoV and characters (I list these for each scene in the chapter), location (again, for each scene in the chapter, chapter word count, running word count.

In my first novel attempt, I created this after the fact. Now I do it as I go and I have started filling in the chapter synopsis before I write the chapter and do the same with the scene characters and locations. Reducing the story to three sentence chapters helps me stay focused on the plot arc and including the chapter word count helps me where I get overly wordy. An overlong chapter will stand out and indicate a review is needed. Maybe the extra word count is justified, but I find it usually is a good indication of where the prose can be tightened.

Maybe this approach would help you feel balance between planning and writing.
 
What I do:
You say you are part way through reading an otherwise finished piece--other than you probably need to edit extensively.
What I would do--what works for me(and may and might not work for you)--finish reading with the new ideas in mind and by the time you reach the end you might know if the whole thing makes sense as it is. This is very important--because if it is finished and it all makes sense then the biggest concern would be editing to get rid of what doesn't belong and what needs clarification and so on and so forth. After you have that in mind then you can look at the add-ons you want to do and based on your edits you can decide if you want to muddy the waters more or just do the proper sifting to get the thing polished.

That's what I do--works for me. All those new ideas can wait. You put them on paper as a note and move on to finish what is there--you say there are gaps or holes; by the time you read to the end those should all be quite clear to you, if they are really there.
 
In your shoes, if at all mentally possible, I would write anything new until I'd got all the way through the thing and worked out what I was changing in every instance. It would suck to do a big rewrite of chapter two only to find that you idea of fixing chapter two involves doing something else entirely.
 
In your shoes, if at all mentally possible, I would write anything new until I'd got all the way through the thing and worked out what I was changing in every instance
(Assuming you meant would not write) you are the voice of reason. Sadly, I am unreasonable: I just plunged right in, revising from the start. Again, because I write so slowly, the early chapters are "new" to me again, and I have fun making revisions. Now whether this is better or efficient is up for debate. Suffice to say, I'm enjoying myself, so I will indulge. It's not like this thing will ever pay the mortgage.
 
Better—if it turns out to be better—is more important than efficient.

Well, unless one is writing under contract with a tight deadline. Although perhaps even then (most editors understanding that writers aren't machines and usually preferring excellence to punctuality).
 
My take is
Pros:

  • An outline can help you stay on track with your story.
  • It can help you identify any plot holes or inconsistencies.
  • It can help you keep your writing focused and on-topic.
  • It can give you a sense of accomplishment as you complete each chapter.
Cons:

  • An outline can be time-consuming to create.
  • It can be restrictive and prevent you from exploring new ideas.
  • It can make your writing feel formulaic.
  • It can be difficult to stick to an outline if your story takes unexpected turns. Or your characters, as they come to life, wouldn't do the things that fit with the plot/outline
do a chapter by chapter outline, but keep it flexible.
 
Like others, I have an outline for my novels, but they are for key points/events. The story may not follow my note exactly, but as long as they are there or in future books, that's all I care about. I use my gaps as a question or hint that points towards a future chapter or 2nd/3ed book.

Otherwise, if not more often, I will look back at my MC and or protagonist(s) and try to see where I went wrong. Most of the time for me there is an emotion problem that I need to address. This will then expand on my story in way that I did not think about.

I have found, but yet to learn this in doing the 75 and 300 worders; you only get one chance at making an impression. So, word choice and sentence structure are important.
 
(Assuming you meant would not write) you are the voice of reason. Sadly, I am unreasonable: I just plunged right in, revising from the start. Again, because I write so slowly, the early chapters are "new" to me again, and I have fun making revisions. Now whether this is better or efficient is up for debate. Suffice to say, I'm enjoying myself, so I will indulge. It's not like this thing will ever pay the mortgage.

If you are enjoying it, and it's not needed to pay the bills, then that is more than reason enough.
 
(Assuming you meant would not write) you are the voice of reason. Sadly, I am unreasonable: I just plunged right in, revising from the start. Again, because I write so slowly, the early chapters are "new" to me again, and I have fun making revisions. Now whether this is better or efficient is up for debate. Suffice to say, I'm enjoying myself, so I will indulge. It's not like this thing will ever pay the mortgage.

Goodness, that was quite a typo! Yes, you were right as to my meaning.

And I don't think there's anything wrong with what you're doing. Some of us need to preserve the fun of it by constantly doing. Some of us need to see the plot in front of us for it to be real. There's a reason I added the caveat about it suiting your mindset. Every time you can get closer to finishing without having to fight your mind, you're doing the right thing.
 
I usually find that planning, no matter how detailed, rarely gets in the way of wandering, doubling back, or leaping sideways.

I've never understood statements about outlines being restrictive. It's just me sitting at a computer, or with notebook and pen in hand. Half the time, I can't hit the outline at five paces with a laser site. I think and plan and think some more, but when it comes to pen-in-hand, I'm like a spaniel in a yard full of squirrels.

Flying squirrels.

An outline is just words on paper. For myself, it's thinking out loud, but someone had a recorder running, so I can revisit the words. Words in a numbered list are no more persuasive or constraining than in any other form.

Plan or write? Do both, with random abandon! The only wrong thing to do is not to do.
 

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