How Outlining is Saving my Writing
I always say that even though I have not been published (or fully, properly, even finished a book for that matter) I am an expert at attempting to finish a book.
I’ll explain what I mean.
Finishing a book is terribly complicated. I believe this is not revolutionary news to anyone, but one thing is saying it willy nilly and another very different thing is actually experiencing it. When you are engrossed in the task you have to battle the insurmountable blank pages, demotivation and self-doubt.
The arduous journey of scouring the internet (e.g. the Sanderson lectures) and books trying to find the best writing techniques and materials likely warrants a whole separate post. Suffice to say, I have had revealing moments, yet all of them are minor compared to the realisation that I could not solely rely on discovery writing.
Broadly speaking, there are two main types of writers out there (for simplicity’s sake I’ll leave hybrid methods out of the equation) and they receive many names, but are always dichotomous in nature: pantsers vs planners, architects vs gardeners, outliners vs discovery writers.
On the one hand, if you are an outliner you sit down to write an extensive outline (duh) and then, once every aspect of the story has been laid out in front of you with copious detail, they start writing the story.
On the other hand, if you are a discovery writer you sit down to face a blank paper with nothing but a vague notion in your head and you, well, write. You let your words excite you and take your characters to places you were not expecting, telling the story to yourself as much as you do for others.
For the better part of 5 years, the latter was my approach to writing.
It wasn’t so much a deliberate choice but an arbitrary one that speaks more of my lack of foresight and planning when I sit down to write. Problem is, I suffer from a very debilitating condition called overwriting.
Hello, I’m Pablo and I am an overwriter.
There. I have admitted it. I have to say, recognising it is quite liberating.
The first proper project I sat down to write had a more-or-less-planned four parts, and when I finished the first part the total word count had come to 150000, with absolutely no end in sight.
For reasons I won’t get into right now I ended up shelving that project for the foreseeable future and decided instead to concentrate my efforts into a practice novel. Something I could actually finish.
With my head full of ideas and having changed absolutely nothing of my craft, I sat down with my laptop and my trusted notebooks and started the process.
The beginning of any project is extremely exciting, creativity bursting through the seams and you need to hurry and write it all down before it escapes forever. For me that means the acquisition of a brand new notebook, the drawing of a map and the brainstorming of far too much premature worldbuilding.
I believe it was Einstein that said the definition of madness is repeating the same experiment and expecting different results. Well, call me mad.
Sorely unsurprisingly, I reached the end of part 1 of this new practice novel at 100000 words and… yeah, I could not see the fickle “The End” phrase anywhere near.
Deciding not to fall into the same pit of despair and recognising this was but a practice novel, I set out to try a new writing technique applying all the knowledge I had acquired in my diligent research.
I grabbed a hold of a whiteboard and sketched timelines, events and scenes that need to happen, POV chapters and wrote out a detailed outline for each of the remaining parts.
It was a proper eureka moment.
It felt like I had removed all roadblocks and the path ahead was clear. It is terribly obvious, but once you write the whole outline — including the ending — well, of course you can see it.
I suppose the lesson to be learned here (not that there has to be one necessarily), is that it is perfectly fine to settle on one specific style if it works for you, yet your writing experience will massively improve if you are willing to step out of your comfort zone and try new things.
Take it from a self-confessed discovery writer that is closer to finishing a book than ever thanks to outlining.