Outlining

January 30, 2007

It's interesting. Everything I've done since starting my first novel has been a learning experience. And now that I'm on to the second novel, I'm still learning.

Learning how to juggle two works in different phases of the writing process. Learning how to stay motivated through the query cycle on Book 1. Learning when to stop nitpicking a story to death. Learning when resuming nitpicking is appropriate. Learning how to work creatively in blue-sky mode on one project while not letting the critical faculties focused at the other work drag the second one down before it gets a chance to surge out of the starting gate.

My one big goal this month was to get Story 2 outlined. I spent three quarters of this month finding every and any excuse to not do that. For the life of me, I could not focus on it for longer than 10 minutes at a time.

But then, good ol' deadline pressure kicked in. I learned a long time ago that I work best with a deadline. Don't get me wrong. I've never been a crammer, and I never leave all of the work until that last hour before the deadline is due. I simply get much more focused as the deadline looms. So the best way to get any writing done is to set myself a deadline. Not a quota. A deadline. And lo! With January 31 looming, I finally sat down and thought about the story. Even more surprisingly, it took me only 2 or 3 days to get a workable outline going. It's far from complete, but it's enough to get started.

The other thing I learned this month is that I'm a writer who needs outlines. Some writers can just sit down and write and their story gradually emerges as they write. I need a plan. I get lost and flounder without the plan. But once I have a plan, and can see the general shape, the writing just comes. The key is leaving room in the plan for changes in direction. But just as the deadline focuses me, so does having a plan.

Here's to outlining! And learning yet one more thing about how I write.

Tools used to outline:

  • Donald Maass' Writing the Breakout Novel Workbook - Not entirely focused on outlining but useful for certain things like main character and antagonist motivations.
  • Mindola SuperNotecard - I converted over to this software version of index cards early on when writing Untalented. I find it helps to have all my notes with me when I travel, or even when I'm just working outdoors, and the hierarchical views are nice.

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