Entries in writing techniques (2)


Find Buried Treasure In Your Outline

Let’s pull a few skeletons out of the closet right away.

Do you outline your writing? 

There is a wealth of writing wisdom out there that says the first step for taking your writing from amateur to pro is to develop the practice of outlining what you write.  They say it’s a surefire way to kick your butt and get you thinking about your content the right way because it's your specific treasure map.

I have a high level of skepticism about any "common wisdom" writing advice, but over and over again I read the same thing in interviews from writers who have "made it".  In fact, I just read the same thing from Amanda Hocking (self-publishing sweetheart and recently signed St. Martin's Press author- to the tune of $2M!).  She spends 3-4 weeks outlining each of her new novels before delving into the actual content writing. 

So as much as I'd like to sputter and say it aint' so, I can't deny the simple truth that outlines have secret powers.  They can even make you prolific.

Outlines also have something else that makes them valuable.  They hide buried treasure.  Riches beyond your wildest imagination. 

The Devil is in the Details

I'm not going to make you pull out your pirate gear and go in search of my hidden meaning here. The buried treasure that outlines hide is knowledge

When done correctly, outlines can make you a better, more efficient writer.

There is probably another part of you that is rebelling saying “Well Christy- I’ve heard you say on more than one occasion that you just need to write.  Write write write write.”

I still believe that's true.  But I can tell you from having written two manuscripts sans outlines that it has made my job of editing ten times more difficult.  That’s because I can’t see the forest for the trees.  I have to go back and forth between chapters to remember what happened when in the story.

If I had an outline to reference though, this task would be much easier.  In fact, that is one of the first things that Chris Baty suggests after NanoWrimo wraps up (and after the much needed time away from your manuscript): go back through the story and outline the important plot details.  (I didn't do that because I thought that I could do it without that.  You can ask me later how well that's going....)

The Bones of Your Story Emerge

Once we strip away all the fleshy parts, we are left with the bare bones of the story.  And this is where our analysis and quest for buried treasure really begins. 

  • Our characters stand naked for us to see  (Oops- we lost John Doe somewhere around Chapter 20.  Better go back and pick that poor fool up!)
  • We can see incomplete subplots.  (I forgot to close the loop on what happened with So and So and her father.)
  • We can see story arcs that don’t jive between the beginning and the end.  (Eek! She was twenty at the start of the book and suddenly she’s thirty-two years old at the end of a story that only spans 2 weeks.)
  • We can see where we got lost which is usually somewhere in the middle.  (Well- that makes no sense at all!  That character would never have gone to that place!)

Outlines keep us from making a mess of things.  That is why they are valuable. 

Does every piece of writing need an outline?

I would guess that most gurus would say “yes”.  They would probably say that even a briefest blog post needs an outline with your opening thoughts, three sub bullets, and closing. 

But for me, anything under 1000 words isn’t trying my skills in seeing glaring content gaps.

In those instances, I use my first draft as an outline.  But for a behemoth project like a novel, I think that it is well worth the time investment to sketch out the high level details of what you think will happen during the course of the story.  That’s not to say that having an outline means everything is written in stone.  But it shows you how to get to the end.  And it is quite comforting to know where “X” marks the spot.  You may sleep a bit easier just knowing how your story is supposed to end.

Just to get some other thoughts on the topic, here are some dead simple resources on drafting outlines:

Your Outline Is Your Friend

Building An Outline

Outline Or Not?

Do you outline?  Why or why not?

(photo credit talliskeeton)



What Else Do You Do Besides Write?


If you don’t like writing, the question of what you do besides writing is an easy one.  You are probably offering to do the dishes, go grocery shopping, get the oil changed in the car, do yard work, or any other task that will keep you away from the writing chair.

But if you are a writer by trade, the question may become more difficult.  You are probably looking at me with big confused eyes saying “Duh Christy.  Writing is what I do. Writing is what I'm supposed to be doing.”

I’m a big believer that if you have a daily writing practice, your writing spigot will constantly be open and it feels easy to do.  (Easy = good right?)  But if the only thing you do is write, I have a inkling that you will soon find that your writing is feeling a bit…stiff. 

The creative juices aren’t putting out the rockstar quality content that you have grown to expect and love.  You aren’t feeling the same enthusiasm pumping through your veins as you approach your writing chair.

That's because writing inside a void means you run the risk of becoming one-dimensional.

Shields are up Captain!

It’s a fine balance between our internal and external worlds.  What waits for us on the boundary, lurking on the external side of the fence, are distractions.  In my case, I feel like no sooner do I found my writing groove, then I get one of those annoyingly effective, gate crashing distractions pounding on my mental door demanding to be let in.

We feel compelled to create a force field around our work in order to ensure that we aren’t distracted. We close ourselves off to everything, including things that normally inspire us, because we feel like we have no choice.  We become narrowly focused on “job one”.  The “priority”.  And to hell with everything else.

External reality feeds our inner creativity

As I’ve mentioned in my previous post, I am a book-devouring vampire.  Recently, feeling a bit of a existential burnout approaching, I decided to dive in and finish a book series that I started over a month ago but never got around to finishing (because ya know- I'm busy!).

That one book turned into four books.  Over the course of three days.  Throw in an additional book that I pre-read for my kid and four books turned into five.  

The crazy thing is that instead of feeling like my brain had blown a gasket, I felt energized.  I realized that my muse was actually telling me that she needed something. She had been crying out for weeks that she needed fuel.  I just wasn't listening.  I had blocked her out and written those pleas off as another distraction.

Just like our bodies need food nutrients to survive, our creative energies need spiritual and inspirational nutrients to thrive.  If you starve your muse, it's going to let you know.  You will be powerless because the muse is so hungry for that thing that it's been craving that you don't stand a chance.

It’s worth the time to sit down and figure out what nourishes your writing so that you don't swat off those big red warning signs and plow ahead like nothing is going on. You need to bake in the required time to do your "other thing(s)" so your creativity doesn't fizzle and fall flat.

It's time for you to chime in.  What else do you do besides write?

(photo credit pasukaru76)