When it comes to fiction writing, I love creating characters and watching them run with the story under my pen. I spend a lot of time at the office coming up with exciting ideas of what and who to write about, and on the way home, I can't wait to get to my desk or notebook. However, when I walk through the door, I inevitably turn on the TV, play a video game, or find some other task to take up my writing time. We all know people like that, right?

It's not that these things are more exciting to me than writing. I've boiled it down to that they are easier to do. Before I can write, I have a lot of fleshing-out that must happen to my ideas before I can get to the "letting the character run with the story" step. Characterization, motivation, setting development, plotting, research, filling in any holes I've discovered through the prewriting process...all before I've put pencil to paper. It's much simpler to turn on a distraction.

I think my problem is too much prep work. By the time I finish it all, I usually burn out on the story and lose interest in writing it. Is there a way to determine the bare basics of what I need to have figured out and to deal with the rest in the process of writing and revisions?

Edit: I've received a number of great answers so far, each of which contains things I plan to apply, but I feel my question needs some editing to better explain my writing approach.

As I've mentioned in a comment below, I have had tremendous success with forum roleplays. In this context, much of the "prep work," particularly setting and the overarching conflict, is already taken care of by the forum creator. I have only to create a character with their own desires, motivations, and obstacles before I can jump in. I realized after my comment that I enjoy plotting in my roleplays as well, but I usually do this as I'm writing, in collaboration with other players I'm working closely with. Usually I get in contact with them to suggest future events.

I have tried to create a couple forum RPs of my own, but have burnt out before getting either of them running.

Obviously developing setting and overarching conflict will have to be skills I develop to be a successful author. In the meantime, I think the closer I can bring my writing process to my roleplaying process, the better off I'll be. Any suggestions?

3 Answers 3


I think the problem is that writing is work. The stuff you call 'prep work' is essentially daydreaming.

All the usual suggestions will apply here, I think. Set a daily or weekly goal for yourself - an hour a day of writing, or five thousand words a week, or whatever seems challenging but achievable. If you have nothing to say, you can sit there and write about how you have nothing to say, but you absolutely have to get the words out. Join a writers' group where you're expected to share your work. Find a writing buddy who can nag you when you don't produce and praise you when you do. Don't let yourself make excuses. If you're serious about being a writer, you have to write.

In terms of what the bare basics are before you start writing - that's going to be something you have to figure out on your own. There are people who sit down with nothing and write full novels. There are others who outline exhaustively. I think it depends a bit on genre: you can probably 'pants' a Romance, but you probably need an outline for a mystery or an intricate spy thriller.

Maybe you should start with some short works so you won't feel the need for so much prep and will be able to achieve a first draft in a short period of time. Then find someone to share the work with; getting feedback is huge motivation, at least for me.

ETA: Based on your ETA I'm going to amplify my suggestion that you write something short and then get it out there for feedback. You sound like a very collaborative person, so I think you may be struggling with the solitude of traditional novel writing. If you absolutely want to write novels right away, maybe you could find a community where you could post chapter-by-chapter to get feedback and encouragement. I'm not too collaborative at all, and I still benefit from having a small online community with whom I share my work as I go. A novel takes a LONG time to finish, and it's really hard to put all that work in without getting any reward.

Alternatively, you could try co-writing something, but I think you'll have better luck getting a quality co-author if you have at least a few short stories to show that you're worth working with.

  • I think I need some clarification on your intent in the first line. Do you mean to indicate that "prep work" is not necessary to writing (since daydreaming is considered non-productive in many cases), or do you mean that "daydreaming" is a necessary part of writing, though like all prep, too much can get in the way of actually writing? I've seen and appreciated your answers to other questions on the site; thanks for taking time for mine. I especially like the suggestion about practicing with shorter works.
    – Sheelawolf
    Commented Feb 5, 2012 at 2:37
  • 1
    I'm obviously in no position to really judge YOU, based on one entry, so maybe I sounded unnecessarily harsh with the 'daydreaming'. But I've gotten a bit impatient with writers who don't write. For me, at least, the planning and dreaming and plotting are incredibly easy. I did that all my life, well before I started writing, and consider it a sort of game. Writing itself--not a game, at all, at least for me. Slapping my ass into that chair and working through the words, that's the hard part. So I guess I meant that you seem to be focusing too much on the easy part. Without the hard part...
    – Kate S.
    Commented Feb 5, 2012 at 9:56
  • 1
    the easy part is just daydreaming. When you actually write down and edit and polish the ideas, THAT's writing, and doing THAT is what turns the first part from 'daydreaming' into 'prep work'. If you never do the second part, what exactly are you prepping for?
    – Kate S.
    Commented Feb 5, 2012 at 9:59
  • Excellent point. And I can understand your impatience. There are way too many of us. ;) Regarding the ease of plotting vs. writing, I think I'm in the other camp. I have really enjoyed participating in forum roleplays in the past. In that setting, the plotting is done by the creator of the forum. Once you craft a single character, it's all writing. Unfortunately, it leaves me without practice in areas like plotting and revision.
    – Sheelawolf
    Commented Feb 6, 2012 at 1:04

This is a common problem. I myself conquered this only last year. There is no one reason and no two writers suffer from the same set of reasons in the same proportion. But here are some things to try out:

  • Freewriting exercises - Whenever you feel like it, open up your note book or your word processor and just start writing. Start with any old nonsensical sentence or scene that comes to your mind and build it up. I once started an exercise with "Mr. Frost popped another banana into his mouth..." It became a short story of intergalactic intrigue and comedy (I never finished it though, but that's okay). Keep doing this until sentence formation comes to you naturally. This may take months!
  • Prep work is definitely a plus. But avoid analysis paralysis. Go for more depth and less scope, initially. For example, paint your scenes and events in your head in detail. What are the characters wearing? What color are the walls? What are their facial expressions? What are the trees like? What are the sounds you hear? Build it up from there. Character motivations, back stories can be built in after you gather some writing momentum.
  • When you master the above two abilities, going from a scene in your head to a paragraph is easy. It just takes practice. It's kind of like learning the guitar -- first you think it's anatomically impossible to hold those chords but you keep trying because you see people with much smaller hands do it. Similarly, know that it can be done and just keep practicing and trying different things till you get it.
  • Check your writing tool. It may be putting you off. If you use a word processor, try switching to pen and paper for a while. Or, try a less cluttered word processor. After many years, I found that applications like Microsoft Word do not work for me. I hate worrying about saving and backup. A cloud based editor solved the problem.
  • This answer has some additional points that may be relevant.
  • Keep going until you develop the habit. If you can, find a trusted friend with a good understanding and taste for your particular genre. Share chapters with him/her as you progress. You might find that this helps you not to abandon projects mid-way.
  • I wish I had the rep to at least vote this answer up. I plan to apply some of these suggestions to see if they can help me gain some more insight into my writing process or provide ways to improve it.
    – Sheelawolf
    Commented Feb 8, 2012 at 1:06
  • @Sheelawolf Glad to hear it. The key is to keep trying different approaches until you find the combinations that work for you.
    – HNL
    Commented Feb 8, 2012 at 2:07

I'll address the question in the post, rather than in the title: "Is there a way to determine the bare basics of what I need to have figured out and to deal with the rest in the process of writing and revisions?"

Since this varies for everyone, the only way to know for sure is to try different things and see what works. You already know that too much prep works makes you lose interest. What happens if you skip thinking about motivation, setting, plot, and just go from idea to churning out words?

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