Saturday, June 15, 2013

The virtue of knowing where you're going

Before I jump into the meat of this post, I want to address something I'm sure will pointed out by more astute readers of this blog. I've mentioned before why I don't post advice about writing. Some of you may think this posting will run counter to that notion, but I'd argue that it doesn't exactly. When I said that I don't like to dole out writing advice, what I was referring to was the actual nuts-and-bolts mechanics of writing. Nor will I blow sweet-nothings in your ear in order to try convincing you to sit your butt in the seat and commit to writing when you don't want to. Hell, I don't even do that when I don't feel like it...anymore. Although, there was a time I did do that. Also, every writer is different, approaching the task a different way with various motives. Writing is not a one-size-fits-all endeavor. Therefore, I will assert that I do not create blog posts instructing other writers how to go about the task of writing.

There. Now that my little disclaimer is out of the way, I want to talk about why I think outlines are a good idea when writing. Again, you might be pointing to the disclaimer, saying "Hey! You just said you wouldn't tell others how to go about writing." To which I would agree and point out that I am only illustrating why I think they are good to use. This blog is about me, my writing, and my other hobbies. Now, I don't always use outlines when I write, at least, not the traditional outline we learned in school. But, I do use some form of outline, in the loosest sense of the word.

If you're like me, the word outline probably makes you cringe as you think back to that rigorous, structured form the teacher made you write in grade school. Forget that. Unless, of course, you think back on it with warm regards. If that's the case, then, by all means, embrace it. Also, if that's the case, then you probably already use outlines. For the rest of you, I want to paint a better picture of the outline. It doesn't have to be that stodgy old tool you're imagining. When I sit down to write, I don't like feeling confined by rigidity and rules. I think that stifles creativity, which should flow like a river, free and wondrous. So, my writing environment is as free from rules as possible. I want to be comfortable. My outlines hold to that philosophy and can differ from outline to outline. One might be a list of bullet points, each corresponding to major plot points I want to cover in the story. Another may resemble that more rigorous, traditional outline if I can visualize the story more deeply and want to capture those details for days or weeks down the road when I might potentially forget them. And, still, others may resemble notes more suitable to appearing on napkins, pieces of cardboard, or what have you.

The outline is only there to serve you, the writer, in whatever capacity helps. When you're writing a novel, it's like setting off on a quest through a forest. You might clearly see the trail heading off into the trees and gleefully follow. But, at some point, that trail may begin to disappear among the brush until you are lost among the trees. Having an outline is like having a compass and map as you navigate the unfamiliar territory. If you've written before, I'm sure you can recall times when you've sat down to write and soon find yourself floundering with what you've written, unable to determine where you are in the plot or where you need to be heading. If you've outlined, you can reference it to get your bearing and get back on course. I've done this and been thankful for having my outline to keep me on track.

I've mentioned that I go about creating my outlines differently each time. Here's why: each story, like people, are uniquely different. Stories demand different kinds of attention. Sure, I've written spontaneously without having the benefit of an outline, but these are rare cases for me. More often than not, I will have some form of outline as I get started. These outlines may contain the high-level bullet points I mentioned earlier, illustrating the course of the story from a bird's eye view. Typically, obstacles will crop up during the course of writing, however, that need to be circumnavigated. At times like these, I will resort to making another outline, one more granular, pointing out how to get me from point D to E in the larger outline. But, as I've said, my outlines differ from story to story. Case in point, I've also written with a partial outline, leading me the first chapter or two into a story. Once I get to that place where the trail ends, I stop writing, pick up my outline and brainstorm about where I want to go from there. Then, I will sit and outline the next chapter or two until, finally, I have reached the end of the book. Each of these techniques depend on the story I'm writing and whichever one feels good to me at the time.

This is how I go about writing. Every writer is different, so I don't recommend you do things like I do. Unless, of course, you feel comfortable doing this. Writing is hard enough as it is. Feeling good about how you approach and feeling comfortable while you're doing it are keys to finishing. So, if you find that you can't finish a story because you often find yourself lost in the woods, maybe creating an outline to chart the rest of your journey will help you across the finish line. It's definitely beneficial for me. And, if you came here seeking writing advice or words of motivation, I don't want to disappoint. Instead, let me recommend a blog that I find instrumental in these areas. Chuck Wendig's Terrible Minds is a great source for writers and he's very funny (at least, I think so). Thanks for stopping by!

No comments:

Post a Comment