Adventures in Outlining

I’ve been saying for years that I am a certified “Pantser.”

For those of you who don’t know what that means, it’s a writer who does it by the seat of their pants.  You get an idea and you just start writing.  Sometimes the magic works and you end up with an amazing story that you never dreamed would have appeared from the little idea you had to start with.  Much more often, for me, at least, you end up a few thousand words in with no idea where you are going, lost in a hazy blur of confusion and paths that circle back on themselves as if they’re magnetically repelled from a coherent, satisfying ending.

Reaching this point time after time becomes disheartening, frustrating, and can develop into a self-fulfilling prophecy.  It’s gotten to the point where when I start something, I assume it’s going to hit that wall.

It’s time to do something about it.

I’ve tried outlining before.  It’s like speaking a foreign language.  (Harder, actually–I’m pretty good with languages.)  Once, I completed an outline and used it to finish a novel.  There were a few spots where I veered off the outline-dictated course, but I managed to reroute myself back onto it with some actual improvements.  Because of this example, I know that I can do it.  What’s difficult is finding the discipline to wait.  No saying, “Wow!  What a neat idea!  I need to write about that right now.”

My last adventure in outlining lasted approximately a month.  I had the core idea, then I spent the month of October walking in parks, sitting in the bathtub, or simply lying in bed before falling asleep, thoroughly thinking through the ramifications of the idea.  What characters go with it?  What is the beginning?  More importantly, what is the end?  How do they get there?  What changes do the characters go through on the journey?

Utilizing patience, a concept that eludes and fuddles me to this day, is the key.  It’s time to embrace a change.  If I want to write another novel–and I do–throwing myself at it blindly isn’t going to work.  I have several files full of permanently stalled beginnings as evidence.  It’s time to slow down.  Time to think.  Time to approach writing in a different way.

I’ll report back on my progress.  And in case anyone was wondering, yes, this is scary, but I believe the rewards will outweigh the risks.

One thought on “Adventures in Outlining

  1. I think of myself as a hybrid. Mostly, I'm a pantser, but I usually know where I want to end up and sometimes a few of the stops along the way. Since most of what I write is character driven, I've found that I have solid characters who have well-thought-out, conflicting needs, that I can pants my way through the story, but if I haven't sufficiently developed the characters, I'm screwed.

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