Back in my Youth, before I had written any novels, I spent a lot of time brainstorming and taking notes. I was working on a complicated novel idea at the time and I needed to invent a whole world from scratch, which happens when you’re writing science fiction. So I came up with a bunch of ideas and wrote a bunch of notes.
Pages and pages and pages and pages of notes.
Like, hundreds of pages of handwritten notes. And I have small handwriting.
I would now like to take this opportunity to yell something at my younger self.
“STOP THINKING AND START DOING.”
At the time I was writing all those notes, I thought I was being productive! I thought I needed to brainstorm to get all of my ideas out there. I thought people like J.R.R. Tolkien had imagined every blade of grass in Middle Earth before he started writing, and by god I was going to brainstorm down to the precise shade of green on every blade of grass in my world.
And yes, sure, it helps to get some of the broad contours of your world and plot in place before you start. But there comes a point when you’re just sitting on the fence and being idle and you’re not getting into the action.
Brainstorming is the easy part. Getting into the nitty gritty of writing a novel is where things get tricky.
Here’s what I didn’t appreciate: It’s way more helpful to just get going and trust that you will figure things out as you go along.
When I actually got down to writing the novel I was brainstorming, how many of those notes that I had spent hours and hours writing did I end up using?
Yeah, pretty much none of them.
That’s because the ideas couldn’t withstand the pressure cooker of a novel. They were abstractions, they weren’t particularly useful. Once I tried putting the plot together and getting the characters in motion, a lot of the ideas no longer made sense.
All that time I had spent brainstorming was largely wasted. I would have finished my novel so much faster if I had just tried to get going writing instead of feeling like I had to have everything figured out first.
If you’re in a similar place where you think you’re being productive but you’re really just idly brainstorming, I’d urge you to think less and write more.
Art: Der vor seiner Staffelei nachdenklich sinnende junge Maler by Napoléon-François Ghesquière