Monday, June 24, 2013

Chalk One Up for Outlining

by Elizabeth S. Craig, @elizabethscraig
I’m one of those writers who is an everyday kind of writer.  Creating habits isn’t easy for me—once I’ve formed one, I have to repeat it every single day to keep it.  And writing is like using a muscle…I’ve found my writing gets flabby if it’s not regularly exercised. I make the time. It’s way too hard for me to pick up a train of thought, the voice, that story rhythm if I don’t write daily. It’s tough to get back into the story.
 I’ve squeezed writing into completely impossible days.  I write at 5 a.m.  I write in carpool lines. I write in doctor's office waiting rooms. I come up with dialogue while doing yard work. I’ve written while eating lunch.  I’ve sacrificed sleep to write. I’ve written while traveling. I always make my deadlines. Whatever I need to do to hit those 3.5 pages a day, I'll do it. If life goes to hell, I'm flexible--I'll write when it's not my favorite time of the day.
But sometimes, you can’t write. I’ve been fortunate not to have many of those days. If I can’t write, I’ve likely been stricken with some ghastly virus. Even then, I’ve frequently been able to mull over my story, think up dialogue, or add to character description.
The last week, though, I really haven’t been able to write.  My daughter had her tonsils out and unfortunately the recovery didn’t go well. She’s fine now, but there was a point where we thought we’d have to check her into the hospital.  We Craigs do illness in a spectacular fashion. :)  With an ailing child and mentally drained… I found it impossible to write. I could write blog posts or emails with the nervous energy I felt while I hung out in the room with my daughter. But creative writing wasn’t possible.
A couple of days ago, I finally opened my manuscript on Word again. Usually, this would be a tough assignment with my head out of the story for so long.  Instead, I looked at my outline, found the point where I’d left off, and picked right back up with the book again.  No problem.
No problem at all.  It was as if I’d only left off writing a few hours before.
I had a complete plan.  The outline said, “Here’s what you write today.” No questions asked or needed.
It annoys me that outlining is working so well for me.  I despise outlining and I hate following outlines.  But I can’t argue with the success I’ve had so far with it. 
So…if you have an erratic life where it’s very, very tough to fit your writing in on a regular basis, I really have to reluctantly recommend outlining. It seems to work well in those circumstances.
Other things you can do with your story if you have no time to write (and you seriously don’t want to outline):
List title ideas.
Come up with character profiles or background.
Brainstorm character arc and growth for the course of the book
List names of characters, names of settings.
Lists of things that puts you more in touch with your character’s personality: 5 things your character is afraid of, 5 things your character wants, 5 types of neighbors your character would hate to move in next door.
Since writing description is drudgery for me, I’ll sometimes sketch out description (for characters and setting) and layer them in later.
Brainstorm for subplots.
Brainstorm for endings.
So there are non-outlining-related methods of moving forward with your story on no-good, really bad days.  But…and I wince as I write this…when it comes to reacquainting yourself with a cold story…
outlining appears to work better.