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How do you keep from overthinking your story?
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Overthinking will never be as much a concern for me as overwriting. So many authors overwrite their works, especially the newer ones. I’ve been guilty of it. It was the main feedback I got in the beginning. Redundancy, too much information, and weak passive language remain the top foibles of starter authors. It’s okay, though. You’ll learn to get those sighs and looks, as well as the was and were under control.
A great way to quell the overwriting is to remember that you’re not the hypothalamus. You don’t need to monitor the automatic functions of your character’s bodies. Also, pay attention to the types of conversations you’re trying to write. Use active language to describe what is happening, and you’ll avoid superfluous information. Last of all, let your readers fill the small portions of information.
Once you have the above under control, the next items to pay attention to are the existence of too many characters and continuity. Continuity will help you avoid plot holes. Whittling down the number of characters will also assist with this. Not everyone your character meets will require a name and address, so to speak. There’s a great big world inside your pages, just as there is in real life. However, just as in real life, your character will not interact in a meaningful way for your story with everyone. Let that go. That’s a quick and easy tip on avoiding overthinking.
Screenwriting, or film literacy, can assist you with what needs to be on the page (screen) and what you can leave out. For instance, nothing happens in a show that isn’t necessary. There are breadcrumb trails that lead you along to what is coming next. Those trails should make sense. Those details are honed in rewrites when you economize your writing. But, will it lead to overthinking?
Without a clear path, it is difficult not to overwrite or overthink a story. That said, don’t worry too much when an idea remains murky when you start to write. It is possible and necessary for any writer to get that sorted out later. You could discover whole chapters to toss, because your path was in the overgrowth. Just take them out, maybe save them in another file elsewhere to feed another work later. While this seems like you’d overwrite and thus overthink it to death, keep in mind that you’re aware of you doing this! You know you have to carve it out later.
Don’t be afraid to delete and forget. If it’s important to the book, it will survive edits. Sometimes, we are too close to a work and believe that everything we spew onto the page is necessary, if not entirely glorious. It’s good practice to let a piece sit for a time (I go months) and revisit with fresh eyes. Once you’ve detached from the writing on a project, you’ll be able to assess it more freely and more effectually. Those fresh eyes discern what goes on the copping block.
My best practice to date on avoiding overwriting is to simply mull a story over in my mind for a long time before I even set out to write it. Literally daydreaming the work and trying out scenarios on the movie screen of my mind has been immensely helpful in figuring out where it will begin and where it will, along with major points in between. I don’t always see the whole picture. Details further evolve as I write. However, I am assured of where I’m headed and can build the story with clear intention.
But, isn’t that the essence of overthinking? No. Having a clear path and clear intention definitely avoids overwriting and overthinking. As I acknowledged above, sometimes, the clear path isn’t always known. Either you’re too excited about something, or you just want to get it down before you forget. The idea comes along painstakingly and there is no speeding up the process.
There have been numerous ideas that come to me and end up with no further development than notes about it in a journal somewhere. That is ok. Mulling those ideas over in my head for a time helps me understand if I don’t have much to go with and that I can make a few coarse notes and move on. Not every idea you’ll have will become something worth pursuing. Don’t despair. Sometimes, it’s just enough that it exercised your creative mind for a small time. If you’ve thought through everything you have and there’s not much to work with, then just jot down your notes and move on. It is a normal part of the creative process. Trust that process.
On the flip side, if you find yourself hashing over a part of the work, unable to let go despite a clear vision of where you are headed, I’d say you need to set the actual writing aside. Practice what I suggested above until you can get your mind to settle on what to do next. It’s okay to not put words on the page when you have too many options scattering your focus. Get yourself a cuppa, settle into a comfy sofa or chair, and stare out the window. Let the scenes come to you, and let them replay with all the switch ups so you can see what actually works the best. Once you’ve run the scene multiple times in the same way, write it down. Now, you’re ready to continue without putting all that unnecessary stuff on the page to be edited out later!
As with everything in writing, practice and working with a mentor is the best way to forge ahead. If you can work with someone willing to point out your pimples and help you treat them effectively, your growth as a writer will be effective. Writing on your own without the help of others will just keep you circling the drain. Instead of writing for a half-hour everyday, take a summer writing course. The investment is worth your time and money and will help you far more than just setting aside time to practice your mistakes daily without criticism. You cannot see room for improvement staring past yourself into a mirror.
A mentor can also tell you when you’re sandbagging and talk it out with you. This can get your over the overthinking. In most cases, it is something beyond that writing that is holding you in that circling pattern–probably a fear. Talking it out can help you let go and get back to the path.
Click on the links below to see what the other authors do to avoid overthinking in their works. To get this blog hop delivered to your inbox every Friday, drop your email address in the box on the top right. See back here next week!