Do you love to plan?
It seems like a silly question for artistic types. After all, we talk about whimsical concepts like “following the muse” and “getting lost in our art.” Is it even possible to “get lost in your planning”? Sounds much less Bohemian, that’s for sure.
But I’m not talking about planning your budget, your next dental appointment or any of that responsible (read here: boring) stuff. I’m talking about planning out your next artistic project.
I’m a writer, so my personal experience comes from all of the wonderful ways that writers can waste time. You want a great timesucker that I can disguise as an important part of my work? Research. I can research / browse the internet all day long. I may find what I need; I may not. It’s okay, though. It’s all part of the planning stage, so it’s necessary that I waste this time.
How about outlining? Ooh, that’s another good one. How can you possibly know how to throw in all of those little foreshadowing bits if you don’t have the whole storyline mapped out?
Character bios? Another great way to “get to know your characters” before accomplishing the story writing.
Wait, Some Planning Is a Good Thing
Even writing the above items as “wastes of time” made my inner-planner weep. The truth is, some planning is fantastic, and it can save you a lot of trouble.
Imagine a movie director getting to the set with all of the necessary crew and saying, “Yeaaaah, we’re just going to wing it today. I had some inspirational flashes of vampires and cowboys and pandas on my way over here, so we’re going to see what we can do with that.”
If you’re working on that movie, you’re suddenly very concerned. If you’ve invested in that movie, you’re furious.
I’m a big comic geek and a process junkie, so I love listening to artists and creators talk about the way that comics come together. Artists, in particular, have to pay close attention to the way they “lay out” the page in the planning process. You may not realize this, but there’s a real art in just the way that the panels are arranged on a comic book page. Your eye is meant to flow from panel to panel, effortlessly understanding the mood and action.
If a comic book artist just threw everything on the page haphazardly, you’d never know what to read next. You’d be frustrated, and you’d abandon the story in a hurry.
Yes, planning has its place.
Don’t Let Planning be Your Crutch
The problem can be that we spend so much time planning that we never actually get to creating. I find that my need to outline the story just one more time always reasserts itself right around the moment when I start to struggle with the writing process.
The inner reasoning goes something like, “Hmm, this is getting hard. You know what the problem is? When the cowboy talks to the panda in the first part of the book, he forgot to mention the fact that he once dated a vampire. (I’m liking this vampire / panda / cowboy thing more and more.) Here’s what I need to do. Start over. Meticulously outline every point, and then I’ll be ready to get it done.”
Whatever progress I had is now completely ruined. I start over, and then I become discouraged or bored and abandon the project.
Ways to Beat the Temptation of Over-Planning
- It’s time to have a bias towards action. Keep thinking, is this next bit of planning actually getting me closer to creating the art or further away? (Knowing some detail about your story’s characters? Good. Taking extra time to look up the material that they would prefer for their socks? NOT helpful.)
- Put a time-limit on your planning. Allow your inner-planner the freedom to run wild for a set amount of time. Once that time’s up, the inner-planner has to go back to… wherever an inner-planner goes for the duration of your project.
- Have a list of what needs to be planned. Don’t finish your planning stage and forget to come up with a plot. It’s great that you know where the characters live according to one another, but make a list of the essential parts of your artistic project so that you’ll get them covered.
- Put down the blogs, instructional books, and planning guides and get to work. This one is a challenge for me. I keep thinking that one more piece of knowledge will help me avoid mistakes, but mistakes are powerful teachers.
What About You?
Before you rush off to complete your artistic project, what’s your favorite excuse for putting off the creative process?
Feature Photo by Valerie Everett