I’m an over planner. I mentioned in a previous blog post that I like to plan—and there is nothing wrong with that—but sometimes I take it to an extreme. When I wrote my first manuscript, Coal Belly, I learned a valuable lesson about my tendency to over plan.
It started with a map. After I had finished it apparently I needed to draw out the deck plans for the riverboat central to the plot. When that was finished I had to draw a new highly detailed map the capital city where a section of the story took place. That obviously wasn’t detailed enough so I needed to divide it up and name all the neighborhoods. Then I needed to draw out the various symbols of the various factions within that capitol city. Next I needed to… no…no, no, no, no, no.
I didn’t need to do half that. Eventually I realized I was spending so much time creating busy work for myself that I was getting nothing done. I was working on collateral and not on the actual story itself. That’s a problem. Research is fine when it’s crucial but there comes a time when it begins to get in the way. Learning to recognize when I was doing something necessary and when I was just spinning my wheels was essential for me to get things done. I had to quit working on all the tangential stuff and focus on the work itself. The actual work. I needed to just shut up and write.
I have to remind myself about this daily. I need to separate the busy work from the real work. There’s always a blog post to write, a character to outline, an article to read, a comment to compose, a map to draw, a playlist to assemble, a twitter conversation to follow, etc. The list is endless and it can get in the way and keep you from finishing. (Rule #2) It’s different for each of us but somewhere inside we all know if what we are doing is needed to finishing our project or if it’s just a distraction.
Whenever you catch yourself doing something that isn’t what you want to be working on, do a double check. Decide if it’s really worth your time or if you should just sit down, shut up, and write.