Write It Down, Sidney!

Write it down. Written goals have a way of transforming wishes into wants; cant's into cans; dreams into plans; and plans into reality.  Don't just think it - ink it! Michael Korda via AZ Quotes.
Image Source: https://www.azquotes.com/quote/856710

One of my favorite movies is National Treasure (Shh, don’t tell anyone) and one of the scenes in the movie goes like this:

Ian Howe (villain) (whispers): Stupid!
Shaw (Henchman): Who?
Ian Howe: Me. It’s not here, it’s there.

Sorry if the wording isn’t verbatim (I’m doing this from memory). However, the gist of the conversation is that Ian Howe is berating himself because he followed the obvious answer rather than thinking the problem through and in doing so allowed Ben, our protagonist, to get to the “prize” first.

That’s how I feel right now–stupid. Not because I’m on a “treasure hunt” for a hidden Templar treasure in modern day Washington DC and New York City, but because I didn’t right down a great story idea (along with characters) and now I’ve mostly forgotten it! ARRRGGGHHH!

Monster Hunting for the Win

The story had to do (as best as I can remember) a group of three people hunting a monster. I remember the basic plot-line well enough so I shouldn’t be so hard on myself, but as an upcoming blog entry will show, I’m a much better story writer when I have the characters fleshed out along with the plot–and I did (I promise)–I had really unique and interesting characters with fairly unique backstories, but now I don’t because I didn’t write them down! ARRRGGGHHHH! I had the villain and his motivation as well, but I didn’t write it down–I’ll save the Argh this time, but you get the drift. It is so annoying to be working against myself. I need all the help that I can get, so when I get a chance, I need to write it down. And that’s the rub.

Writing on Breaks

The rub is that I came up with this story and characters while working at my second job which doesn’t have a lot of downtime. There’s a normal break, but 15 minutes isn’t a whole lot of time. The problem is that I intended to write this down during my break, but I forgot.

I try to read on the break, but there’s just not enough time–as soon as I get interested/involved with something, it’s time to stop and go back to work. I have my notebook with me and this needs to be when I pull it out and just jot down story notes/character ideas/character sketches or any other writing related thing that I need to remember or otherwise this might happen again. On my break tomorrow (or, Heaven forbid, if I happen to arrive early), I plan to jot down what I remember from this “monster hunting” story in my notebook for future reference (which I should have done in the first place).

ARRRRGGGGGHHHHH!

Sidney




  • Current Work-in-Progress–February 2019: Project Dog  (Sci-Fi Short-Story – 1st Draft)
  • Current Work-in-Progress: Ship of Shadows (Sci-Fi Graphic Novel – Script, Issue # 2, Currently on Script Page 32)
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1 Little, 2 Little, 3 Little Drafts

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“The First Draft is Just You Telling Yourself the Story”–Terry Pratchett.  Image Source: The Salonniere’s Apartments

Word Count (What I’m Writing); Updated every 2-3 Days (mostly)

  • Project Ship of Shadows (Graphic Novel) Page Count: 12
  • Whale Song Revision (Fantasy Short Story) (2nd Draft)

Goal = 3 Pages a week.  Working on Rough Drafting a Graphic Novel Page on one day and then writing the page on an alternate day.  250 Words a day on the Whale Song Revision–focusing on the characters this time.

Currently Reading (What I’m Reading); Updated Weekly (mostly)

  • For Fun:
    Transhuman edited by Mark L. Van Name and T. F. K. Weisskopf
    Just started this anthology – it was given to me at a LibertyCon some years ago, but I’ve just now gotten around to reading it. I may not finish it/read all the stories, but so far, I’ve read the first story and liked it.
    Traveller RPG: I started this a while ago as a book that I was reading just before bedtime, but I didn’t really make much headway.  I restarted it and I’ve just finished the introductory character generation section and I’m now moving on to the skills section and will be soon moving into the “lore” section.  This is a revamp (rules 2.0) of an old school British RPG from the 1980s.  Updated for modern times, this fairly short book still gives a great set of rules, game system, and lore that I hope will serve as inspiration for new sci-fi works in my own writing life.
  • For School:
    Ancient Rhetorics, Digital Networks: A book that combines New Media (digital rhetorics) and combines them with ideas and theories of the Ancient Rhetorics.
  • For Research/Personal Development:
    Great Aircraft of WWII by Alfred Price and Mike Spick (for Project Skye)
    Great Aircraft of WWII is a book that I’ve had in my collection for sometime–I’ve glanced at it periodically, but never read it cover-to-cover.  Now, with Project Skye, I intend to do just that.

1 Little Draft

I finished a First Draft on Friday for my newest story.  I’m really hoping that working this way will help my stories to be more competitive in the marketplace (if I’m honest, I know it won’t–too many want people want the nihilism of a Game of Thrones/Breaking Bad/Walking Dead–but at least if, and when, the stories are rejected, I’ll at least know that I’ve truly done the best that I could with them and I was just born/came of age as a writer in the wrong time).

To be succinct, my First Drafts are to tell MYSELF the story.  Yes, I do Outline and Rough Draft, but those are mainly dealing with plot.  I’m more interested in the “story map” in those two stages than I am in anything else.  The First Draft is my 1st attempt to put all those ideas into a tangible story.  And usually, I edit this draft and start submitting it.

2 Little Drafts

So, I’m not going to submit my First Drafts anymore.  Well, what am I going to do?  I’m going to work on revising other works while my “alpha” readers read the story and give me feedback on it.  Once I receive the feedback, I’m going to take those notes and try to incorporate them into a new draft that deals with characterization.  Characters are the most important part of the story and I’ve not really been focusing on them.  I’ve been making them to reflect my personal character which is fairly reserved where they need to be a little “larger than life.”  While I do intend to focus on other aspects, my primary focus on this draft will be characterization and character backstory and ways to show my characters in the best light.

3 Little Drafts

So, I’ll submit it after this draft, right?  Not planning on it.  I’d like to do one more draft that deals primarily with setting.  In the stories that I’ve published, my setting feels like a definable place where the setting in my unpublished stories feels generic and unoriginal.  I’m using this draft to make sure that I really punch up my worlds and make them something special.

Anyway, I hope to exemplify the writing process for my students and hey, if it makes my stories better at the same, well, I’m all for that as well.

Have a great day!

Sidney




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Project Independence–One Week To Go

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Artwork by Glenn Clovis via Artstation.com (Click for more Information)

Word Count (What I’m Writing); Updated Daily (mostly)

  • Project Independence Word Count: @4000 words (+203 words)
  • Project Ship of Shadows Graphic Novel Page Count: 12

Goal = 167 words (5000 words by July 1).  Currently at approximately, 4100 words
Actual = 0 words Thursday/Friday night.  I wasn’t able to write Thursday night due to fatigue.  Friday night I came home, but was stuck in traffic, meaning that instead of getting home in enough time to write, I was very late getting home and by that time fatigue had set in.

Currently Reading (What I’m Reading); Updated Daily (mostly)

  • For Fun:
    Oathbringer by Brandon Sanderson (Fantasy Novel, Stormlight Archive Book 3) (somewhere in 1000s in terms of page count–nearly at the end of the book.
  • For School:
    Ancient Rhetorics, Digital Networks: A book that combines New Media (digital rhetorics) and combines them with ideas and theories of the Ancient Rhetorics.
    Lingua FractalA Rhetoric book that details the convergence of Rhetoric and Technology and how they interact in today’s world.  Finished a Book Review for it on Friday for class.
  • For Research/Personal Development:
    Great Aircraft of WWII by Alfred Price and Mike Spick (for Project Skye)

Reading two or three chapters in Oathbringer every day.  I really shouldn’t be, but it is so good, that I generally read it while eating dinner (and then I go back out to the library to do reading for school).   Great Aircraft of WWII is a book that I’ve had in my collection for sometime–I’ve glanced at it periodically, but never read it cover-to-cover.  Now, with Project Skye, I intend to do just that.

One Week to Go

So, I have one week to go on my (self-imposed) deadline for finishing the First Draft for Project Independence.  I have a several former co-workers at the Chattanooga Public Library who serve as my “Alpha Readers” and who give me reactions about the story.  When I worked at the CPLmy supervisor tried to make sure that everyone in the department got at least one weekend off every month.  Mine was the first Saturday of the month.  Since I’ve left the library, I’ve lost that as a “driving force,” and that’s why I’m working so hard to try finish the story by this date.  I know this works, and like I’ve said before, I really try to find something that works, I try to replicate it as best as I can–“If it isn’t broke, don’t fix it.”

Would Like to Finish 1st Draft on Independence Day

It would be really cool to finish the story on Independence Day.  This year, Independence Day is on Wednesday.  The symmetry of finishing the project on Independence Day would be awesome, but I don’t think that I can realistically make it based on all of the school assignments that I still have left to do this week.  As this is the last week of school, I believe that I will be working quite diligently to finish all of the material due before the week is over.

1st Draft–Telling Yourself the Story

So, Project Independence is the first project where I’m really concerned with drafting (i.e., going through multiple drafts) until the story comes out like I envision it.  Usually when I finish a story, I edit it and then begin submitting it unless there’s something truly wrong with it or it doesn’t come close to matching my original vision for the story.  Now I’m committed to going through at least three drafts, focusing on different aspects each draft to see if I can improve my writing (& selling) of my work.  Right now, the first draft is me just telling myself the story.  There is a quote that I found online that (I believe) is attributed to Neil Gaiman that (paraphrased) says that the 1st Draft is you telling yourself the story.  The implication is that it really doesn’t matter how good (or bad) that draft is because you’re just trying to get the fundamental elements of the story down on the page.  You can go back and strengthen, revise, and reshape the draft later–just get the story down on page.  This is what Project Independence represents for me.  Just getting it down on the page.  However, this is where I usually edit it and start submitting and this time I don’t intend to to that.

I’ll have a blog post later in the week that talks more about my drafting process, but suffice to say, Wednesday, July the 4th would be an ideal deadline, but Saturday, July 7 is my absolute deadline that I’m working towards.  Wish me luck!

Sidney




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Submitting Drafts Too Soon?

Terry Pratchett_First Draft_Pinterest
“The first draft is just you telling yourself the story.” Terry Pratchett (Freedom With Writing).  Image Source: Pinterest

  • Project Paradise Word Count: 357 (+244)
  • Project Skye Word Count: 1084 
  • Project Independence Word Count: 1723 
  • Project Ship of Shadows Graphic Novel Page Count: 12 

I came within 6 words of my Daily 250 word count, so I feel like this was a successful writing day.  I would have liked to have gotten to 250 words, but the place where I stopped seemed like a natural “break” in the flow of the story.

Am I Submitting Drafts too Soon?

So, working on Project Skye has been an eye-opening experience.  I’ve discovered some interesting things about my drafting process as a fiction writer.  One of the things I’ve discovered is that I need to “Tell, Don’t Show” first.  I need to tell myself the story first before I try to show it to the audience.  The second thing is that I may be submitting drafts one or maybe even two/three versions too early, and this may have to do with the terminology that I use when describing where I am in the writing process.

“Working” Draft

So, after I outline and write a Rough Draft (sometimes these are separate, sometimes not–although, lately, I’ve taken to outlining using the “Story Map” handout that I’ve mentioned before in a previous blog post, and then write the Rough Draft in the Notes App on my phone) which looks a lot like a “Treatment” for a Hollywood script.  I let that sit for a week or more and then start on the next draft, the “Working” Draft.

To me, “Working” implies that it is a “Work-in-Progress” Draft of the story.  It is, as close as I can make it, the story that I see in my mind.  After the “Working” draft is finished, I compare it to the outline and the vision that I have in my head.  If I’m satisfied with it, I’ll edit it and begin submitting.  If I’m not, it will go through another “pass” to see if I can improve on it.

“Intermediate” Draft

This process did not work with Project Skye.  What I’ve done is created “Intermediate” drafts along the way with each successive draft getting closer and closer to the story/vision in my head.  Unlike, 99% of my stories so far, I’m only on the first major scene, and already I think I’m going to need at least one more major pass at it to get it right.  I’m doing a lot of world-building and characterization in this draft, but other techniques like building excitement by starting the story In Media Res (“in the middle of things”) and cutting of extraneous details that need, but that the audience doesn’t won’t be addressed in this draft (although I have ideas on how I might accomplish these things in the next draft).

However, normally when I finished the draft that I’m on right now for Project Skye, it would go out to various markets, so I’m wondering, if I haven’t been simply submitting my stories too early in the process by not thinking of these drafts as “intermediary” steps to getting to a more “dramatic” story that does what all good writing should do: “show, don’t tell.

Food for thought for me on this Wednesday afternoon.  Happy writing and reading!

Sidney




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“Just Show Up”

DesireeLinden_Winner_NPR
Boston Marathon women’s winner Desiree Linden celebrates after she crosses the finish line on Monday.  John Tlumacki/The Boston Globe via Getty Images.  Image Source: NPR (All Things Considered–Click on Image for more information)

Training to Write

This will be a shorter blog post today–it is “Study Day” where there are no classes, but I want to use the day to catch up on reading and schoolwork.

“Just Show Up” is what Desiree Linden, the first American to win the women’s race in the Boston Marathon in 33 years, told a reporter in an NPR interview after the race.  Desiree tells how training wasn’t going well and that some days felt great and some days felt less great, and goes on to explain that she told herself to “just show up” and on the day of the race, to “just show up for one more mile.”  This is exactly the sentiment that we as writers and that myself in particular need to hear.

Writing to Train

One of the things that Desiree Linden said in the interview that really spoke to me as a writer was that her training phase was particularly brutal (as was the race with the poor weather conditions).  She said that some days the training “flowed” and went to plan, but that some days it was really difficult and arduous.  She, however, decided to stop thinking about it so much and to just “show up.”  She has a Twitter mantra that says that she makes a choice every day “show up” and that she needs to stop worrying about what the day gave her and to just “show up.”  This is so applicable to me and my writing life because too often, the writing doesn’t “flow” like I want it, or rejections come that are out of my control.  Like Desiree, I just need to “show up” for each writing project and enjoy the process.  Her crossing the finish line was an accomplishment and winning the race was a victory.  I need to make finishing projects my accomplishment and publication (which is out of my control except to write the best story I can) my victories.

Music Makes the Medicine Go Down

One thing that I noticed was that she had a strong love of music–it begins and ends the NPR story.  Finding a strong musical choice can help motivate you and give you the inner strength and energy to “show up.”  I’ve noticed that I don’t write to music as much as I use too (the room is silent right now even as I type these words).  I’m going to have to get back to giving myself a musical boost if I want to follow Desiree Linden’s example and “Just Show Up.”

Have a great day!

Sidney



 

Read, Write, and Improve

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Stephen King Quote on the Importance of Reading and Writing (“If you don’t have time to read, you don’t have the time–or the tools–to write.  Simple as that.”  Image Source: PR Daily 

I written on the blog before that I haven’t really been able to write like I’ve wanted to based on the demands of life.  I expect that to continue for the near future for reasons that I won’t go into here, but I’m going to try my best because I feel like I’m missing a “piece” of me by not writing everyday/reading things for myself rather than school everyday.

I was really excited after reading the article on PBS.org profiling author Jesmyn Ward called “Persist.  Read, Write, Improve,” by Elizabeth Flock.  It was a short, but informative article and it really seemed to set out a “path” that I wanted to follow for 2018 (the closest thing a New Year’s Resolution as it were).  My goal was simple.  I would persist through 2018 by reading and writing every day and at the end of the year, I would (hopefully) see improvement.

Read

This is my most favorite thing to do, but I haven’t been reading like I wanted to.  I think it is because over the break, I was able to devote an hour (sometimes up to two hours) just to read every day and make substantial progress on my books.  I just don’t have that much time in the day.  I finally decided to devote half an hour to reading each day.  Also, last year I didn’t really have anything to read because I only certain authors (the few who aren’t drawn to the Dark Side of the Force with the allure of “GrimDark”).  However, ALL my favorite authors published material last year, so I want to read all of my favorite series and I just don’t have the time and it is really frustrating.  I’m also “supposed” to be reading books for school, both books and articles assigned for class as well as books in my “field” (English) on my own.  It is hard to enjoy my “reading” time when I have to read a book called Multimodality during my “reading time”when what I want to read is Oathbringer by Brandon Sanderson.

Maybe I could read school books during the week and my personal books on the weekend?

Write

This is where I really feel that I let myself down.  Partially, it wasn’t an intentional act of laziness on my part.  Forgetting the computer, one week, and the charger, the next week meant that I was without my computer for essentially a week and half (pretty much all of my time here school).  Now I did have access to the school’s computers and since I have the blog and many of my writing files online, I could have gone there to write, but the frigid weather and uncertainty of the car starting put a major damper on that, so the end result is that none of the goals that I set for January were finished.  I’d really wanted to finish a Rough Draft, Working Draft, and Edited Draft every month, but perhaps that was too ambitious based on the amount of school work that I have.

While I can’t devote two hours every day, perhaps I just need to find a way to better utilize the time I do have.  I was up early to work on the blog–perhaps shorter, more consistent blog entries and use the remaining time to work on the writing projects I have in mind?

Improve

What I really want to see from my writing and my reading is an improvement in my ability to write long.  I don’t want just write short stories–my real desire is to write novels, screenplays, graphic novels, and pilots for television (of course, Sci-Fi/Fantasy based).  While I most certainly want to improve my storytelling abilities on ALL fronts, I really feel that improvement is needed in my ability to write long and to craft stories that can exist in the long-form media in order to see success as a writer.  That’s what I’m hoping Jesmyn Ward’s advice will help me accomplish this year.

“Don’t Be a ‘Writer.’ Be Writing”

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Image of Typewriter and the quote Don’t be a writer.  Be Writing by William Faulkner, Image Source: Pinterest

This quote from William Faulkner is as close to a New Year’s Resolution as I will allow myself for this year.  I’ve tried too hard to be a “writer.”  I need to just write.  I need to plan what I want to write (for me that generally means character sketches and plot outlines, along with world building) and I need to revise what I write (getting it in good enough shape to submit and making adjustments as necessary).  But most importantly I need to just write (to draft project after project regardless of whether I’m selling the projects or not).

Planning to Write
I’m working on planning at least one project to write every month.  If I finish planning a project early, then I will pull out another project and plan it, but every month I plan to have at least one project done (so I should have 12 new projects ready by the end of 2018).  This is both attainable (hopefully given school work) and measurable (I report back at the end of the year to see how closely I matched this goal).  I created a Planning Checklist in Numbers (Apple’s answer to Excel) to track the days that I can actually work on planning and on the days I do, I simply place a checkmark beside it to give visual feedback on how well I’m doing.  Thanks to my illness, I only got to work on planning 2 days last week.

Writing
This is where the rubber meets the road.  This where I actually sit down and draft out a story, trying to adhere to all the story conventions (Character, plot, dialogue, setting, beginning, middle, end, exposition, rising action, climax, resolution, etc.).  I intend to create a checklist for this process as well to help give me visual feedback on how well I’m doing.  Thanks to my illness last week, I didn’t get any drafting done last week, although I did draft 5 days consecutively the week before Christmas.  The same thing applies: every month I’m drafting 1 project, so that at the end of the year I should have at least 12 projects written.  I want to be a little “harder” on myself on this step as it is doable.  Just pull the internet connection on the laptop and write until the battery drains (which in the case of my late 2008 Macbook Pro is only about 45-50 minutes), so this is where Faulkner’s quote comes in: don’t be a ‘writer’ Be writing.  This is where I really want to show growth/improvement in the coming year–(again, based on schoolwork).

Revision
While I understand the market isn’t perfect and I’m not the flavor of the month, I still want to publish my work.  To that end, like the other two steps, I want to try to revise at least 1 project every month and put it out on the market.  I plan to follow the same “mold” as the other two steps in creating a checklist to help give me visual feedback on the days I worked on the project.  I worked 1 day on HawkeMoon last week due to the illness.  I want to submit it to an anthology that has a deadline of Feb. 1st, 2018.  I intend to enlist aid from either another grad. student or the Writing Center to help get the story where I want it for this market.  I intend to write an Author’s Note for it as well as to write a more in-depth Revision Note section on what I want to revise and why and try to solicit feedback on how to achieve this goal.  As I type these words, I just got an email from a market that Silence Will Fall made it to the second stage (the “maybes” pile) at a market–so there’s hope still that some markets do, in fact, like what I write.

Well, that’s all for now–while I might not touch on this monthly (although I might give periodic updates, I’m not sure yet), I will try to revisit this in an end-of-year post to see how well I’ve done.  All of this is dependent on school/classwork which is the great unknown in this endeavor, but hopefully I can find 45 minutes somewhere in my day to not be a writer, but to be writing.

Sidney



Hope I’m not Overdoing It

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Image Source: Pinterst (Calvin and Hobbes, Created by Bill Watterson)

Every since I was a lowly undergraduate, cruising the English Department offices at U.T. Knoxville (& later U.T. Chattanooga) and seeing all those wonderful English related comics strips taped to professors doors, I’ve thought to myself that I’ve always wanted to something like that “when I grew up.”

I’ve never been one for customizing my “workspace” as the colleagues who I worked with at the public library can attest and I’m rarely at my workspace to begin with if I can help it.  However, you could always find one or two comic strips (like the one I found above by Bill Watterson) adorning my workspace in some capacity–either on the desk itself or in a drawer or stuck unobtrusively to a wall.

Now that I’ve completed a year at MTSU, I’ve begun to do the same with the small cabinet  that I was assigned in the Graduate Teaching Assistants office.  However, for some reason, I also find that I want to add copies of the first pages of my published work.  I hope I’m not trying to “show off” or “impress” the other G.T.A.s (nothing good comes of me trying to show off–I’ve learned that  through HARD experience).

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Image Source: Greensoul

Yet, I feel the need to customize my space, and to say, “hey, I’m a creative writer and this is what I do.” Perhaps, it is because at this level, creative writing is somewhat frowned upon.  There’s this idea that you’re not a true academic, that you’re not truly one of us, if you’re not writing papers for conferences, for (academic) publication, and for scholarly pursuits.  Perhaps, customizing my workspace is my need to say, “no, my creative writing is just as hard and matters just as much as your academic writing, maybe more so, because I’m doing both . . . your academic writing and my creative writing.”  I just hope that I’m not overdoing it and setting myself up for a fall.  It would be awesome to be able to put clips from both cartoon strips and my own published writing on my very own office door one day.

Sidney




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The Outline’s the Thing (to Catch a Story) Redux

Outline
Source: bcourses.berkeley.edu

OUTLINING (Why the Hate?)

When I mention (either in person, or on the blog) that I outline, people react violently as if it is wrong to want/need to plan out a story.  There’s almost an elitist attitude toward creative writing without a plan, as if it is some badge of honor or mark of genius to just sit down and start writing and hope that the story will come to you as you write.  However, I think a lot of this anxiety over the outline comes from the image above.  Outlining, as you can see from an outline that I found online, requires much forethought and planning.  Inside this particular outline, you have topics, subtopics, and even nested subtopics.  If you look at this outline, however, you could write this paper.  The thesis (main idea of the paper is clearly listed and each topic relates back to this one idea.  You would only need to go and research those individual topics to craft a paragraph (or chapter) on each of those subjects, right?

Boring!  This is what makes academic papers so hated by so many students because they don’t see the need for this highly stylized way of writing.  They don’t understand the conventions behind the academic essay nor do they see the need for creating an outline that helps you to write in this formal way.  They hate it and, by extension, they dislike the process of outline.  This is too much trouble.  Why in the world would anyone put themselves through this willingly?

The reason is simple: It gives a concrete roadmap as to where the paper is going.  You, or I, with enough research could write this paper.  We know what we need and we know where to put it.  Now that the outline is done, we simply just need to find out what we don’t know about the subject (the research) and then start drafting it.

CREATIVE WRITING 101

So, do you need to outline like this for a story?  No, of course not–an outline can be as simple (or complex) as you need it to be for your own purposes.  For me, I use a slightly modified version of this outline:

story map
Source: http://www.teacherspayteachers.com

This has the bare minimum that I need to tell my story.  I need to know the setting (where and when the story is taking place), the major characters and any minor characters that I’ve thought up.  I need to know what the main character’s problem is  and why it is so important to them.  I need to know the three main scenes that happen in the story (beginning, middle, and end)–I used to use five scenes and I would structure it like a Shakespearian play, but I discovered that it was making my stories too long for many markets and it wasn’t really adding a whole lot to the story–that’s why I’ve gone back to just the essentials.  I also need to know the outcome of the story (how does it end).  I’ve also added one thing: the Theme (why does this story matter, or what am I trying to impart to the reader).  Now, I’m not trying to give a moral to the story, but I do want to have the character discover some “truth” about themselves, life, or others at the conclusion of a story and knowing what a possible theme could be at the beginning helps me to do this.  Outlines don’t inhibit creativity; rather, they provide a sense of knowing one’s destination and the steps needed to get there.

AN IMAGINARY TRIP TO FLORIDA

So, right now, I could go jump in my car and go to Florida.  I know that Florida is south and east of me and I know which direction southeast is from where I sit as I’m typing these letters.  I would only need to get on the highway, keep going in a southeasterly direction, and eventually I would make it to Florida.

google maps 2

But in real life that’s not what I would do, nor most of us, if we’re truthful.  We would open up Google Maps or Apple Map or some other mapping application on our phones (or other navigational aid, or, if you’re old school, a physical map) and we’d plan out our trip and use the app or navigational aid to help us navigate the highway system.

So, how is this any different from outlining a story?  To quote Yoda: “No, no different, only different in your mind.”  Just like I could get to Florida by heading in a general southeasterly direction, I could write a story by just jumping in without outlining, but there would be so many wrong turns, dead-ends, and general confusion, that I wouldn’t be having any fun and I would most likely abandon the project before I finished (or to continue the metaphor, turned around and went back home in frustration).

SAVING THE STORY, ONE OUTLINE (STORY MAP) AT A TIME

Now I’m a great proponent in finding the process that works for you as an individual.  No two writers are going to write in the same way, using the exact same process.  I’m also a great proponent for the idea of “if it isn’t broke, don’t fix it.”  If what works for you is to jump write in without an outline, and you’re a successful writer (aka making a living at it), then don’t try to change it.

However, I’m also a proponent of tinkering and adjusting something that’s broken until I get it to work (longtime readers of the blog know of my almost year long quest to find the solution to my wi-fi issues back in 2014-2015–read the posts from that year for more info).  If you find yourself not as successful as you’d like to be as a writer, or you are abandoning story after story, or that you can’t your stories to match the vision in your head (like what was happening to me about a year ago when I wrote the original blog entry “The Outline’s the Thing (to Catch a Story)”), outlining should be a technique that you should at least try in order to see if it might work for you.  My process was broken because I need to outline.  Just jumping in only results in frustration for me.

In conclusion, writing is such an individual process that the only way to know what works for you is to try it.   The advice to just dive right in and not to worry about outlines, while well meaning, isn’t really helpful or useful advice unless that’s what works for you.  If it doesn’t, it’s like telling a drowning man, “hey, just suck it up and keep struggling, you might just learn how to swim eventually,” whereas the process of outlining could be the “life-preserver” that the drowning man can use to keep himself afloat.

P.S. In case you think I’m the only one who thinks this way, I’d encourage you to take a moment to enjoy some of these quotes by other writers who “think” the same way I do:

I force myself to outline, but not too closely, so I guess I plot by the seat of my pants? My natural instinct is to dive right in, but I know I’ll get stuck. I like to stick with the architect vs. gardener metaphor. I guess I’m a gardener who plants tomatoes. I have the sticks in the ground and let the vines grow along those parameters.
–Victoria Aveyard

I am a big outliner. For my adult book, ‘The Visibles,’ I did not outline, and it took me two years to write because I just didn’t outline, and I had no path.
–Sara Shepard

I am a writer who works from an outline. What I generally do when I build an outline is I find focal, important scenes, and I build them in my head and I don’t write them yet, but I build towards them.
–Brandon Sanderson (one of my personal favorite authors at the moment)

If you take a few days to write an outline, you’re just making up scenes that you think will work, that you think will be interesting. But as you write it, other ideas occur – better ideas that have to do with what you’re writing.
–Elmore Leonard

I have a number of writers I work with regularly. I write an outline for a book. The outlines are very specific about what each scene is supposed to accomplish.
–James Patterson

and probably the most telling of all:

I always have a basic plot outline, but I like to leave some things to be decided while I write.
–J. K. Rowling

(Source: http://www.brainyquotes.com)

Sidney




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