Episode 61: The Mysterious Case of Thinking Too Much


It’s really a magical moment. Hours and weeks of preparation have given you the background you need to write with clarity and wit. You’ve outlined, inlined, prelined, and whatever else you could do to make the words flow from idea to finished work.

But as soon as you start to type, conflicting ideas start popping up. The longer you write, the more doubts proliferate. And after a few pages the whole premise collapses. Instead of capturing the idea, you crawl back to your notes—discouraged and ready to rethink everything again.

Perhaps this isn’t exactly how it happens for you, but there is an anxiety that goes with turning an abstract idea into concrete prose. The idea is huge—maybe even gargantuan—but the writing doesn’t quite capture the concept the way you want. The characters aren’t talking correctly; the points aren’t working like you want; the flow just isn’t there.

In my experience, there’s a definite progression:

  • The exciting idea phase
  • The still exciting planning phase
  • The unrealistic expectations phase
  • The underwhelming initial draft
  • The death of excitement and/or inability to continue

Now, if you’re wondering how the title of this post comes into play, this is where. Great ideas can die because of too much thought.

This may seem counterintuitive. After all, the more thought that’s poured into something, the better the finished product. Right? While that’s true to an extent, the reality is that at some point the thinking and ideas have to go from amorphous to solid. The writer has to decide what structure to go with—and then go. Is this structure going to be perfect? No. Will there be massive changes? Yes.

I always recommend that writers put in enough preparation to feel comfortable. After that, just write. And keep plugging away—even if that voice in your head says, “Are you sure Hal needs to go to Target here?” or “Is the gross domestic product of Zimbabwe really important to point A?”

If you let that voice dominate, you’ll likely feel more and more as if the draft is failing. And here’s the truth: Maybe it is failing. But drafts weren’t meant to be perfection on a page.

The more that internal nag points out how your writing is not on par with your idea, the more discouraged you’ll become. No writer can live up to a grandiose vision on the first try. The skill of writing is just as much about working flawed drafts into realized final products as it is having the idea in the first place.

Stop thinking; start writing. Address the doubts later.

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