Tag Archives: Outlining

Pantser or planner: Outlines

Ever have those weeks where you just don’t know where all your time goes? I’ve had two in a row. I’ve probably only written 10 pages between the two weeks. It’s a little discouraging, being tired and fatigued and feeling like I have no time. But I’m choosing to be glad about what I did get to write, and let go of the rest.

For this project, I’ve gone back to my former habit of just flying by the seat of my pants. I have synopsis of the book, a general idea of what happens, and I just go.

I’ve completed a couple drafts this way, but only ever while participating in NaNoWriMo. Though, let the record reflect that I don’t think I’ve ever finished a draft when it wasn’t in some way related to NaNo, so…

I go back and forth between planning  and pantsing, as it’s called in the NaNo world. While it’s fun to blaze uncharted creative territory, I think the more I get into it, the more I realize I like to have the outline. I like to know I’ve thought it through. I can still explore the story as I write, but an outline forces me to sit down and really think about the story.

When I fly by the seat of my pants, I think I use it as an excuse to be a little lazy with my thinking. I have an idea, and I just flounder along with it until I run out of motivation, inspiration, and creativity.

I hosted an event at work earlier this month, and during a panel on creative process (the little snippet I got to hear) one of the panelists said if you’re feeding your artistic side, the muse will visit you. I found it very encouraging. As long as I’m investing in my creativity, it’s progress. Sometimes I think I just need to accept that thinking about my work is equally as important as actually writing it.

So, I’m curious about your writing habits. Do you plan a lot? Make it up as you go? Somewhere in between?

Writing all the wrong things

I’ve actually been writing a lot this week, just not at all for my story.

I’ve whipped up two book review blogs and scheduled them (not crucial, but I like to write them as close to finishing the book as possible, so it’s all still fresh in my mind), and I’ve been writing quite a few personal little biography-type pieces as part of a bigger project of discovering what I want to do with my life.

I’m using Richard Bolles’ “What Color is Your Parachute” to map my skills, traits, passions, and more to uncover what my ideal job would look like, and from there where to look for it. It’s funny that, while mapping this, writing has cropped up several times, both as a passion and a skill. And yet, when it comes down to it, when it’s not part of my job, I’m terrible at giving it priority as a passion.

I talked a little bit before, I think, about how it can be difficult to feel up to creating your own world when you’re run down in reality. It’s so much easier to slip into a world of someone else’s making through reading, and I’ve been facing a good deal of that lately. I’m tired and worn down, and it’s easier to let someone else take me on an adventure instead of trying to construct one of my own. But, I am working on it. So long as I don’t let a whole week slide past without at least a few minutes writing, I’m not ready to write it off as a complete failure. I started. And if every week I make a point to start, I’ll get somewhere, eventually.

One of the hardest parts of writing, and one I haven’t quite ironed out yet, is figuring out where to put on the breaks. I’ve heard and tried various techniques, and I usually run into one of two problems.

First, I write until I’ve reached a stopping point. Things are wrapped up for the moment, I’ve finished a chapter, or I’ve run out of immediate ideas. The trouble here is that then, next time I go to write, I’ve got to find somewhere to start, something to motivate me to dive back in. I fall into this a lot. And you’d think that I’d eventually stop myself where I’ve got room to keep going, but I don’t.

Which leads us to the second, almost worse issue, in my opinion. I stop in the middle of a good scene, I know where it’s going from here, and it’s going to be so easy to dive back into the story tomorrow. Except that, by tomorrow, my good idea has fled, and I can’t quite remember where it was going. I know, it seems obvious. Just write myself a little note outlining where I’m going. But, it just never turns out as good as I thought it was going to. That’s not to say it’s good when I zoom through and write it all in one go, but at least the passion was there and I don’t have to second guess it until I get to editing (so, potentially never).

I’ve taken to making middle-ground detailed outlines for my stories, at least for several chapters ahead of where I am. This helps, to a degree, because if I get to a dead end, I can just start the next chapter. But, then I catch myself worrying about how long or short the chapter is. “Only two single spaced pages? That’s barely even a chapter! There should be more!”

So, it all circles back to grace, like I talked about before. Grace for the crappy writing, grace for the not writing, and now grace for the different writing. Grace for just thinking about writing, and then blogging about it, as though I actually did any significant writing. Which I suppose is fine. Only like five people read my blogs anyway, so, who’s really going to call me out on it? Certainly not my mom or grandma.

Sometimes, you just don’t feel up to creating. And sometimes, you need to focus on creating something a little more tangible for the moment. And that’s what I’ve been doing this week. Instead of mapping a story, I’ve been mapping myself, with the hope that soon I will reach a place where my writing can be a passion again, one I have both time and energy for. Until then, a couple short sessions a week (or even just one) will have to be a success for me. At least I showed up this week.

Entering a new world

Lately I’ve been working on doing only one thing at a time. For example, if I’m watching TV, I’m trying not to be on my phone, or checking my phone while reading. And while I’ve only just started writing again, I’m definitely going to carve out specific time for it, without other distractions.

Most of last week was spent working on the beginnings of an outline for my newest project. It’s only partial, and not overly detailed, but it’s enough to start from.

Set in a dystopian world (which, I always thought I didn’t like, but, turns out it’s just specific kinds of dystopian stories I don’t like. Usually the predictable and boring ones.), society is broken into two groups: those who live in the cities, connected to technology through, essentially, virtual reality, and the fringe society who lives outside the cities, living off the land and as much without technology as possible. This fringe society generally believes themselves to be better than the city folk, who spend all their time creating fake worlds and fake identities to live in.

Aliyah (I think I’ve chosen this as her name. It’s what I’ve begun using, anyway) is part of the fringe society, and while she recognizes some truth in what her leaders say, she also finds herself discontent with the way they live, turning their backs on most advancements and help, because it isn’t done with a person’s own two hands.

She’s on the verge of being ostracized because of her love for books, and it’s this same love for books that causes her to cross paths with a city girl during a scavenging mission. This city girl (name unknown, at the moment) is also discontent (surprise!), finding it hard to have meaningful and genuine relationships in a virtual world where a person can recreate themselves at will. It’s impossible to know who anyone truly is. The two determine to find a middle ground, and try to make both halves of society recognize the benefits of the other, while also seeing the flaws in themselves.

 

When I started writing the first chapter, I was surprised at how much I wanted to lose myself in the world and in my writing (though it was hard because other stuff was going on in the background). I only wrote a couple paragraphs, but it was enough to help me remember what it feels like to get lost in creativity.

I know that as the days and weeks go on, it’ll be a challenge to make myself set aside specific time for just writing. It’ll be tempting to turn on the TV and pretend that I can watch something and write at the same time (I can’t, and I’ve always known I can’t. That’s why I used to pretend to study with the TV on during finals, because I felt obligated to study, but I knew I didn’t really need it.). But, as long as I keep making it a priority, even just 15 minutes in a day, I’ll hang on to that feeling of getting lost in this new world of my own creation. And that’s exactly what I’ve been missing lately. I’m glad to have that joy back.