Overthinking is one of the biggest things that holds writers of all levels back.
Yep, even seasoned writers overthink new ideas.
Especially if it’s a new genre or medium.
But experimenting in new genres and mediums is one of the best ways to flex your writing muscles in the same way that when you try a new piece of gym equipment, you exercise different parts of your body.
But when you’re a chronic overthinker, how do you stop?
How do you shut the voices in your head up long enough to get some writing done?
And, when that writing is ready to go, how do you shut those voices up so that you can actually do something with your finished piece?
Let’s take a deeper dive into how to stop overthinking your writing…
Set yourself a timer
When you’re short on time, you don’t get chance to overthink things. You need to get the words out of your system as fast as possible.
Be strict with your timer—don’t go over it, or you won’t teach yourself the discipline.
Free writing is how I draft my books so quickly. It’s my favourite part of the writing process.
Talk to a friend
When you’re stuck, talking to a friend can be a great way to work out the kinks in your writing.
It can also help you to figure out if something really doesn’t work, or if you’re just overthinking the whole thing.
Plan in advance
When you plan not just your writing sessions in advance, but your whole piece in advance, all your overthinking is done before you even start writing.
You’ve ironed out the plot and structural problems, you know exactly who your characters are, and you know where your story is set.
If you find yourself obsessing over minutiae like the word for something or getting that phrase just right, leave a note or a symbol or something—you can fix that stuff in editing.
There are different levels of editing, and you really shouldn’t be fussing over the musicality of sentences until much later in your story’s life. (And that’s coming from a poet.)
Write by hand or turn your screen off
Writing by hand or turning your screen off makes it a lot harder to edit as you go along (something I’m vehemently against).
While you can scribble out when you write by hand, if you’re doing so with a timer, you lose a whole lot of time.
If your screen is turned off, you can’t see what you’ve written to edit as you go.
If you’re prone to making typos so don’t like this approach, you can train yourself to not make simple typos…
…just not when you’re getting your idea down.
Go to a writing class/workshop
In them, she uses her skills as a teacher and writer to help other writers get their ideas out of their heads and on to the page.
Workshops and writing classes are great ways to do this.
They often have writing sessions mixed in with the topics that you’ll learn about, which means that you can often get feedback from the course tutor on your interpretation of the technique or topic.
Have an accountability buddy
Nobody likes letting other people down.
Having an accountability buddy means that you’ve got someone to hold you accountable when it comes to your writing.
You can set goals for your writing, then report back at the end of each week or month with your progress.
When things don’t go according to plan, you can break down what went wrong together to avoid the same pitfalls next time.
When they do go according to plan, you get to celebrate!
(And you should always celebrate even the smallest of achievements, because the endorphins that celebration triggers will eventually be associated with writing, too.)
Play to your competitive side
Are you the competitive type?
If so, why not play up to that?
Find someone who’s equally competitive, sit down together, and set yourself a target word count.
Loser buys the next round of coffee.
Work on something shorter
Shorter pieces are less of a commitment. They’re also—usually—faster to finish due to their shorter word counts.
That’s why I often recommend blogging and poetry to writers that struggle with finishing their writing projects. They’re valuable skills, and blogging in particular can help you to get over your fear of publication.
When your first piece is a 200,000-word epic fantasy story that requires world building that would put Tolkein to shame, it’s easy to back out because there’s so much work involved.
Don’t put so much pressure on yourself when you’re just starting out, or you’re returning after a long break.
Go easy on yourself and start small.
Give yourself some time away
Always, always give yourself some time away between writing something and editing it. It’s only from doing that that you can view it objectively enough to edit.
However, don’t use this as an excuse to stop writing—work on a side project while you take your break.
For me, when my novels are in the drawer, I write blog posts.
When my novels are my focus, you’ll often notice a surge in guest posts so that I can focus my energy.
The more often you adopt this technique, the shorter the space of time you’ll need between editing rounds to spot issues.
Set a deadline then submit straight away
Scared of submitting so you focus on minutiae instead?
Set yourself a deadline then submit it when you hit that deadline.
While you may think that this puts you at the risk of errors, it means that writing is at the forefront of your mind, which is crucial.
It also means that you don’t have time to dwell over silly little things because you have a looming deadline.
Eventually you’ll learn the difference between overthinking something and something genuinely not being right.
But, like with everything, developing this skill comes with time and confidence.
I knew something was wrong with my latest book, but I couldn’t work out what, so I sent it to some writer friends to read. They helped me to figure it out and, after a few discussions, we came up with a fix. That’s the hallmark of a great writing community, and that’s why I’m a big advocate for them.
Over to You
How do you stop yourself from overthinking your writing? Share your tips in the comments below!