The Agony of an Outline

When I first started writing full time, I just sat down and got to it. I suppose I fancied myself a free spirit, a gal not inclined to sit and map out a story. Stories, after all, were organic–something that spewed from the writer in a great heaving gush of creative energy. Sort of like sitting with your head in the toilet after eating bad clams. Repulsive I know, but there you are. It wasn’t pretty, but it was what I believed. I also believed that the more I wrote, the more I would be inspired.(Which incidentally, I still believe)

And then I met Eric Beetner (virtually of course, because as you all know, we’ve never met in person) and because of the nature of the work we planned to undertake, we had no choice but to outline our novel.

Now here’s something you should know about me. I hate to be bored. I am a fly by the seat of my pants, let’s see what happens next, sort of gal. Jump in with both feet.

I didn’t “do” outlines.

Well, I made an exception for Eric because I felt he was talented and if it was the only way we’d be able to write something together, then I’d outline. I’d bend my rules and bite the bullet and sit still for awhile and work out the story before sitting down to write it. It was torture for a while. I was like watching my mom mix up cookie dough and knowing she wouldn’t let me taste it. No cookies until they come out of the oven.

ARRRGGGHHHH!!!

Maddening. It was maddening, I tell you.

I wanted to write, not discuss what we were going to write about. Blech. Icky. Yuck.

But I persevered. I cut down on my caffeine intake and took up medication . . . er . . . I mean meditation, and I got through it.

And then came the writing. Wow. Was it ever easy. And I mean easy. Everything fell into place. When the plot veered, we went back to the outline and re-worked it, tweaking it until the new path was clear.

We did the same thing with the second novel.

I’m — what am I? — I guess “perplexed” is the best word. I’m perplexed to admit that I’ve taken up outlining in all my work now. I’ve just reached a point in my current novel where I’ve had to return to the outline. I look at it now like using a road map-(-something else I HATE doing, by the way)–I hit a detour, go back to the map and come up with a better route. Sometimes I even change my destination. (Don’t you wish they made GPS for writers? It would make my life so much easier. I’d press a button and the little box would say “recalculating. recalculating. recalculating. and then spit out the new path for me.)

I’ve been having some computer problems lately . . . my laptop decides to shut down for no reason or it just freezes. (My husband insists its because when I bought it a year ago I didn’t take the time to do research and just bought one with a big screen that runs too hot and therefore has a shorter life. Well DUH. Me? Research a computer? Ewww.)

But I digress.

One thing I do with diligence is back up my work. Because I’m sure you’ve all figured out by now that I’m waaaay too impatient to try to re-do something.

But with the new computer issues that have arisen, I’ve taken to backing up in two places, Dropbox and an external hard drive.

As I was going through my files this past week, I came across a bunch of notes from my first novel. Imagine my surprise when I discovered, in very primitive form, an outline. I was already doing it even back then. It might amount to nothing more than a note to myself at the top of a chapter. Something along the lines of– “Baker needs to shoot Barone in the kneecap and then kiss Deirdre. Don’t forget her red hat”–was not uncommon to find above the first paragraph, written in bold so I knew it was a note to pay attention to.

I’m happy to say that my outlining has evolved as my experience with being a writer has increased.

I don’t know if I’m a better writer for it or not. But I do know that the writing comes more easily because I’ve got a guide.

Do you outline? Do you hate it? Do you love it? Do you revise?

I’d love to hear about it.

 

–JB KOHL

1 Comment

Filed under musings, writing

One response to “The Agony of an Outline

  1. christinehusom

    I’m with you in your earlier writing techniques. I’ve tried outlining. Didn’t work. I’ve tried storyboxing, but got about 8 of the 12 boxes filled with key plot points. I guess I outline more in my head than on paper, but that boils down to key points more than anything else. The book I’m working on now may require me to do actual outlining and I’m fighting against it, hoping it will evolve like the others did without one.

    I tend to see key scenes, sometimes out of the order they will appear in the book. At least that’s the way the last two were written. The first one was sequential. The important thing is to find what works. Our brains all process differently. Maybe it’s time to give outlining another good old college try!

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