I’ve started writing a novel two times, and only finished once.
(For the purposes of this post, I’m not including my current project, the barely begun sequel to No Return. … Did I mention it’s barely begun? Yeah, let’s not talk about it. It’s a sensitive topic.)
In October of 2007—right around the time I decided that probably, most likely, very possibly, maybe, I was going to start treating this whole writing thing like a serious enterprise—I resolved to take part in NaNoWriMo.
Honestly, even though I’d never attempted anything over 10,000 words, it never occurred to me not to outline the project beforehand. It just made sense. I figured writing 1,700 words a day would be hard enough, so why make it even more difficult by not having a clear path every time I sat down? I made sure I had defined assignments, the surest course possible. I wrote up character profiles, drew maps, etc.
…and then, y’know what happened? Two weeks after beginning, I quit.
Even with the outline, it was too difficult.
In July of 2010—having just completed a semester in my MFA program working with James Patrick Kelly; a semester wherein I’d disappointed myself and probably Jim by producing very little new short fiction—I resolved to try writing a novel again, and this time succeed.
Under the tutelage of Elizabeth Hand, I came up with a rough concept (in the beginning, it was simply “Space Opera Without the Science”), took a title one day after feeling inspired by a Brakes song (the lyrics of which, oddly enough, bear not even a passing similarity to what I would write in the novel), and then got to work fleshing out the details of my narrative.
My primary tool? An outline.
No, having failed one time didn’t cause me to doubt the wisdom of using this method.
Because I knew myself. I’m a whiny-baby man-child who gets frustrated and discouraged at the slightest little speed bump during the writing of a first draft (regardless of the length), so I figured it wise not to give myself any room to stall out. Insuring an unambiguous goal each day seemed not only smart, but necessary in order to keep myself from failing at the long form a second time.
Thankfully, I got through the first draft.
This fact still surprises me.
Here’s the point, I guess:
Writing is a supreme effort. It’s guts and blood and puss and a sore goddamn back—at least, if you want to be good at it. (Sure, there may be people who are just abnormally talented and never have to struggle at the craft, but you and I aren’t those people. If we were, we wouldn’t be engaged in this right now. We’d be breezing though yet another genius opus.)
And yet… many people resist outlining. It boggles the mind.
My advice? Use every tool available to you. Don’t close your mind off to the outline. You may not need it, after all, but what’s the harm in doing it?
You’ll learn something.
Your creativity—your freedom to innovate—won’t be hampered.
You’ll still find room to surprise yourself.Read More...