Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Prime Directive

I try not to get too personal about my writing on this blog. It’s challenging enough to write fiction without the blogosphere witnessing. It’s like exercising in public—a little too much information. But part of being a writer (generally) is that we want others to know about it; to share in news of its loving conception and difficult birth. I always hope for a reaction like, “What a beautiful baby!” Even backhanded compliments are welcome. I’ll settle for, “What a unique child,” or even, “He doesn’t look anything like you.”

Currently my writing output is stuck between conception (writing a novel outline), birth (jump starting another draft), short story revision, and dawdling indecision (writing this blog post). I’ve approached my novel from multiple angles, switched up characters’ ages, personalities, and back stories, but I’m still not satisfied that I’ve hit upon the correct mix of variables that will see me through completion of a successful final draft.

Writing outlines can be part of the writing process. Some writers can’t start writing until they have a complete outline. Some writers blanch at the mention of writing from an outline. Then there are writers like New York Times bestselling author Ms. X, who had been researching the shit out of her second novel for a few years before she signed a book deal, and faced a hard deadline. Before she wrote a word, she wrote an outline. To finish her book on time, she needed to know not just her characters and plot, but also the structure before she started writing. She didn’t have the time to rework structure halfway through a third draft. She couldn't have completed her new novel on deadline otherwise. And from what I hear, she’s met the deadline. Thank you, Outline!

My prime directive is writing. Time for writing is my luxury. Or rather, not having a deadline. It makes up for not having a New York Times bestseller. Well, almost. Conception can be a fertile writing experience, but am I using my time appropriately? No amount of preparation replaces a finished short story or a novel draft.

Is an outline the first step or just a bluff?


Randy Susan Meyers said...

For me, an outline must be bright enough to see where I'm going--like headlights. I may not need the entire plot outlined, but I need to see at least four chapters ahead.

This, for me, is different from the 'overview,' which is my eyes-only synopsis of my plan.

Outlining give me freedom to write without worrying about which road I'm taking. I can concentrate on the journey.

Dell Smith said...

I agree. Outline is a generic, plug and play term really. I tend to keep an overview synopsis in my head as I write; it's the logical scene-by-scene progression that I use an outline for.

After I'm well into a draft, I'll start a second outline, one that shows what I've written to reference if I need to remember what happened in chapter 3 when I'm writing chapter 20.

Cynthia Sherrick said...

I should write an outline, but I don't. And I always have mid-novel plot troubles.

Thanks for this post, and good luck with your novel decisions whichever way you go. :)

Tim Carrier said...

I think writing an outline is -
1)) a personal decision. Some writers find it helps while others find a outline can be a trap that sometimes leads to characters not being allowed to evolved naturally.
2)My medium, Poetry, doesn't lend itself to outlines and can, in fact really hurt. For me, the process begins with a phrase or line and then I let it go where it want to go. Once done, the hard part begins and that is editing.

So use what works best for you and be open to alternative ways of approaching your writing.
Tim Carrier

Dell Smith said...

Hi Tim. Thanks for the comment. Yes, I wouldn't imagine that an outline helps with poetry. And it depends on the writer and what might or might not help.

Cindy, you might need an outline to help with plot, I recommend one in your case, but it could also be that to get to a finished draft, you need to get through iterations of the story, with or without an outline. If that makes sense...