Planning vs Stalling

Some people plan their stories for years and years and years before finally putting it down on paper.  Others start from nothing and build their way up through words on the page.

I like at least a little bit of planning before writing.  Sure, sometimes I’ll do a free-write to get the juices flowing, although rarely do those turn into more than just snippets of plots.   But when you plan so thoroughly ahead and map it all out, there comes a time when you have to ask yourself, is it still planning or are you now stalling?

The snowflake method of writing (if you’re unfamiliar, here’s a link to a more in depth talk on ) is all about planning.  You start off with a one sentence premise, then branch it out into a summary, then go more in depth with the summary, and branch out into chapters, and scenes.  With each level you write more details.

For me, I feel like that takes away a lot of the flow from my writing.  Even if you don’t follow the snowflake method as in depth as it can go, you’re still taking the time to completely map out the novel.  I would be itching to just write before I even finished expanding on the summary!

Which makes me think that perhaps too much planning can lead to stalling.

There did come a point when mapping out my current WiP, that I realized I was suddenly just stalling the writing process.  I tried and tried to plan out the novel, but I kept changing things, and became very indecisive.  To that, I had only one solution.  Just start writing it out. There was no way I could plan the details until I got my hands dirty and experienced them.

But of course, every writer is different.  We all use different methods, and get into our own unique writing rhythms.  We just have to keep being aware of what is working, and what isn’t working with our own writing processes.  What was stalling me, may be beneficial to another.

So I have to ask, would the snowflake method help or hinder you guys?  And have you ever found yourself stalling at some point in the writing process?  How did you change your process after that?


About Aly Hughes
Unprofessional, unedited, unpublished. Aly is out to make a name for herself by blogging, twittering, facebooking, and general internet-ing. Be warned: She may not know what she's talking about.

28 Responses to Planning vs Stalling

  1. I never make plans of my stories. I always have the ideas in my mind. At first I’ve got some ‘pictures’ and some dialogues between characters, and then I just start to write. Usually, the beginning of my story has got to change later on, because as the story progresses, I may change my mind about different kinds of things. But that’s no problem. I fix it later on. But to me, there is nothing better than discovering the story as I write. Writing, I think, is more authentic when it comes straight out of you, without having plans on it… It’s truer, in a way.

    • Aly Hughes says:

      I like what you said about writing being more authentic when it isn’t planned. I definitely agree with you. I find that my best writings happen when an idea comes to me and I just shut everything out and write. I’ve just been unable to keep that going with writing longer works. If I didn’t have a destination or a goal for the novel I’m working on, then I would have burned out on the story after a good 5,000 words or so.

      However, I do leave things up for change. I may plan, but I try not to limit myself as far as the evolution of the story goes. 🙂

  2. TheOthers1 says:

    I can’t plan my writing too much because it just makes me anxious. I try to have a general idea of Hugh points I want to hit, but many times I’m just writing and letting stuff develop as I go.

    • Aly Hughes says:

      I feel like that works best for me as well. With short stories I can just write them through without planning, but working on novel-length works I need at least a destination for the novel…the whole getting there part is open for detours though! 😉

  3. I just wrote a guest post about this for another blog. I think it’s going to be posted tomorrow, and I’ll post a link here.

    The short story is that I started as a complete pantser, and I still plan as little as possible. If I had to do all that planning before I started writing, I’d never finish anything.

    With my current project, I started with a general idea, some characters, a very loose structure, and a hazy plan for who was going to be murdered, and why, and how it was going to be solved. That’s about it. I’ve discovered that if I don’t have at least that much, the stories can go on forever.

    • Aly Hughes says:

      Definitely post the link on here, I’d love to read it!

      I agree, I would never get anything done if I did that! I think sometimes people can use it as an excuse to put off writing. Either they’re nervous, scared, or just not ready to invest time and effort into writing. Sometimes you just have to say ‘screw it’ and jump in!

      I do like a basic structure though, or at least an end goal of where I want the story to go. That way I don’t meander off too much from the plot.


      • Here’s the post I talked about:

        I agree with Sara’s point below about different books needing different processes. I think there are two reasons for that. One is that different stories need to be told in different ways to be really effective. The other is that (in theory, at least) we learn some things as we go along, and we apply (in theory 🙂 ) what we learned from the earlier projects to the newer ones.

  4. I just tend to write, I’ve found when I’ve planned things out (never extensively) I never stick to my plan.
    Also, could planning kill the story off, theres a saying that if you tell everyone the story you want to write then you will never write it because you’ve already told it.

    Loving this blog Aly 😀

    • Aly Hughes says:

      I think planning too much could definitely kill a story. It’s like over-planning an elaborate party. By the time you’re done cleaning, decorating, cooking, setting out drinks, and planning activities, you’ll be too pooped to actually enjoy the company, and end up just worrying about the mess.

      And that saying is definitely true. If you keep talking about the story before it’s complete, then really, what is left to tell when you sit down to write?

      Thank you! I always enjoy your input. 🙂

  5. Sara Flower says:

    Hmm maybe one day the snowflake method could work for me, but I generally tend to write more freely since I have the general storyline stored away in my head. For my first book, I did have a loose outline but the second, I wrote it so quickly that it just built on its own. I think every book can be a little different.

    • Aly Hughes says:

      I always considered the writers as having different processes, but I like what you said it being different for every book as well. I hadn’t thought about that! Thanks for the insight!

  6. Samir says:

    Not much planning for me either. I do some planning for novels but these change or evolve along with the project.

    • Aly Hughes says:

      I like knowing a destination of where I want my stories to end, but I’ve given up on trying to follow a straight line to get there! I think it’s good to have goals for the story, but it’s also important that we’re open to changes. 🙂

  7. Tom B says:

    I planned and planned for years on one set of novels and other than the planning, never wrote a thing. Contrarily, some of the members of my writers group seem able to come to a good balance between planning and then writing. Me, I had to let go of that and see where things went on their own. Sometimes that works. But sometimes is better than planning, and planning, and ending up with nothing else.

    • Aly Hughes says:

      That is where I was headed with this story, but I think I just became to impatient with mapping it out, and finally just started to write. I will say that I’m glad I did take the time to at least think about where I wanted the story to go though. If I didn’t have an end in sight, my story would probably end up like a TV show that just drags on with no destination! (Lost, anyone?)

      I’m glad you did find what works for you though. I’m still finding that balance, but I’m getting there. 🙂 Thank you for sharing!

  8. Ava Alexus says:

    Hi Aly,

    Your post comes at an interesting time for me, as I’m currently trying different methods to see what works best for me. I’m usually not a planner, and I also write from scenes or character dialogue, but what I’m trying to achieve is getting the most out of my limited time frame. Right now I’m probably doing something loosely based on the snowflake method, but it does make me wonder about the stalling.
    That being said, it has been good for research and getting some finer details down in the moment as I’m thinking about them.

    • Aly Hughes says:

      I think there’s definitely potential for the snowflake method to be more beneficial for different types of writing. As you said about helping you incorporate your research in with writing. So far I haven’t written anything that I’ve had to do in depth research on, but if I do, I think a more detailed and organized writing plan would help me more than just kind of winging it.

      Above, Sara Flower commented on how the writing method can be different from novel to novel for the same author. That was something I hadn’t thought about before, and it’s a very good point. I think it’s important to consider that what writing methods worked for your last story, might not necessarily work for your current one.

      Especially for beginning writers like us, it’s all about experimenting to find what works. 🙂

  9. Pingback: Weekend Musings… | Ava Alexus

  10. Kristi Bernard says:

    Hi Aly, I agree with your post. Sometimes we can spend so much time planning and putting things aside, that we ultimately don’t come back to it. I am guilty of this.

    • Aly Hughes says:

      I am guilty also! Perhaps it helps weed out some of the bad ideas though, and hopefully none of the good ones have been lost. 🙂 Thanks for the comment.

      • Kristi Bernard says:

        Aly, that is the toughest part when writing, is keeping all the good stuff that readers will remember. Thanks.

        • It’s sometimes only a few things. I love The Diamond Age, and really it’s one scene (that the whole book builds up to). Howard Hawks said the definition of a good movie was “three good scenes and no bad scenes.” They tell you to kill your darlings, but sometimes a handful of great scenes can make a book stick with the readers.

  11. Jeannie says:

    Many think (Larry Brooks for one, that being a ‘pant’ser’ won’t produce good writing–he advocates planning and outlining. Others (like Stephen King) think you need to start with the situation firmly in mind, then proceed as if unearthing a fossil, letting the story unfold and take you along on the journey. He views plotting much like a jackhammer, destroying significant parts of the story. I’ve discovered I’m more of the pant’ser type and find it more creative. I don’t usually flounder very much using this method. The thing is, a writer is going to do what works for them–either you’ve got ‘it’ or you don’t. I think I’m prejudiced in my thinking though, to be fair, because I view outlining as part of the academia point of view which to my mind stunts and inhibits the creative flow to meet their standards. It probably works well for research papers and articles, but in creative writing it’s a different story–pun intended. I know, I’m an old war horse!

    • Aly Hughes says:

      I think you’re right, outlining can be a very academic way of approaching creative writing. If you plan so thoroughly and make outlines and models, how much of the “creative” part is left in the actual writing? Definitely not as much as when you just sit down and passionately write.
      Thank you for the input! 🙂

  12. Interesting post, Aly. While the snowflake method sounds like an effective way to jump start one’s writing, I don’t think I’d be able to write like that. I’m like you in that I’d be eager to start in on the novel. Although maybe that would be a good way to write a synopsis…I normally have a basic outline with an idea of my cast of characters before I start and I always do research on the topic as well. So far that method seems to be working for me! 🙂

    • Aly Hughes says:

      Yeah, I think it’s good to have a balance of both. I always seem to do my research while writing, just because there’s so much I don’t think about until I’m actually writing. Then I’ll hit a spot where I need to know more, so either I’ll make a note to do more research in brackets, if I’m writing a first draft, or I’ll just do the research right then. It depends on if it’ll break up the flow of my writing at the time. 🙂
      Thanks for the comment!

  13. I believe that there should be a healthy balance between the two. A little planning goes a long way but impromptu writing and letting your gut feeling motivate you through your story also enriches your plot.

    Personally I’ve had no plan for my current WiP, Aiken’s Wings ( The basis for my character was actually created many years ago when I wrote a poem somewhat unusual for me. It was a dark poem, heavily gothic and in many ways it reflected what I was going through at the time. Although so different I fell in love with my character, Aiken, who originally was intended to be a vampire. Many years later I reconnected with the character and began writing a novel, Aiken being the main characters. I hadn’t been looking to revive his character but it somehow popped back into my mind and felt like the right decision. With that said, nothing was planned out to begin with. I played around with the idea of continuing the whole vampire theme but that did not feel right. So I just started to write. I sat down and words ran across my screen and somehow they molded my plot into what it became today. Of course, there’s been many changes but the core of the story still remains the same.

    As I started writing, more ideas flowed in and they showed me what worked and what didn’t. At times it is frustrating because I do wish I had a more clear and concise picture of where I am going with it, but at times there is an immeasurable awe in seeing your work grow almost by itself.

    So all in all, planning is good. I even do a small amount of it myself. But even clear visions of what my story needs to be often stems from my flexibility to let it become what it does, without having to plan out so many details and outlines. In turn I don’t feel overly restricted with my imagination and I find relief in not having set up so many parameters.

    Great post, by the way.

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