Oh lordy help me. Every time I think I have a handle on writing, on the craft itself and on the ways I write, I trip over something that reminds me I only know about 1/10th of 1 percent of what “real” writers know.
Deciding whether to outline or to discover as I go (seat-of-the-pants writing or Pantsing), for instance. For over 90% of my time spent writing so far I have been a discovery writer. I think of an idea and start writing a scene and then construct other scenes around it that lead to a whole story. Okay, most of a whole story. Okay, I have virtual drawers full of begun stories. I am sure I am not alone in this. Oh, please let me not be alone in this.
I write my poetry the same way. Think of a scene or be struck by a picture or a thought or a rose petal floating down the sidewalk in the rain and then start writing. Poems emerge, mostly complete. They require tweaking and maybe a word or rhythm or rhyme change but the idea is all there. It is one reason I like poems. They are short and an idea can be clearly encompassed fast. I am kind of impatient.
Short stories are the same. Perhaps a big idea, or a poignant moment occurs and I encapsulate it in a short story that I discover as I write it. Yes, I have to edit, shorten, tighten, reveal, show-not-tell, but the idea is contained in a few hundred or thousand words. There isn’t room to get lost in the labyrinth twists and turns of my own brain paths, or distracted by hitting the “research” button. Although that happens far too often and I find my story lost among maps of places the story should be happening in, and cute cat videos.
But I digress.
Lately I have been trying to write a novel. A full length 70,000 word novel. With characters and character development and world-spanning changes of venue, action scenes and more motivations than you can shake a head at. It is a lot of stuff to keep straight and I am discovering problems with the organization of it. I am discovering that discovery doesn’t work for long form writing. At least for me. Remember the labyrinth.
Hence, outlines, and discovering how to do them and how they work. What I am really discovering is how much there is to discover. Way too much info for a single blog entry.
Steven Pressfield has talked about the “Foolscap Method” of outlining. As a matter of fact he wrote a book about how he wrote his first successful novel “The Legend of Bagger Vance” using the Foolscap Method (it’s called the Authentic Swing). Essentially it is putting three acts on a single page to help keep the story straight. It is simple, short, easy (-ish) and good. And quick. You can do it in a single day. You write down what the beginning, middle and end of your story are. It is a roadmap. You still don’t know what sights you’ll see on the road, but you know where you are starting and ending your journey.
So I think I have it. My novel is outlined on one yellow legal-length page. YAY! Except then I find myself thinking things like, “Why is this story happening?” “Where is it coming from?” “What are the motivations of the 10 or 12 people I am most concerned with?” So I start writing those things down as “outline notes” and “questions to be answered later”, and “character outlines”.
Lo-and-Behold, my writing time dis-app-ears.
I warn you best-beloved, outlining can lead to a place filled with traps and quagmires and twisty paths that can lead you away from writing. Getting hung up on the Perfect Outline can mean spending hours and hours NOT writing your story.
So – Stick with Pressfield and build the short one page “Foolscap Method” road map. Then write your first draft without thinking about why Marcy is motivated to wallpaper her apartment only with wallpaper featuring rose prints. Figure that out later.
Why are you reading this? Get back to work.