On Friday, I revealed some big news here at The Wordslinger. Having shared this revelation with family and some close friends weeks before, it felt new and exciting again to make the announcement here on the blog. It also provided a much-needed reality check via a Chuck Norris-style roundhouse kick to the temple.
“How am I going to write The Great American Novel with an infant in one arm and two toddlers super-glued to my legs?” I thought to myself, while playing the role of horse to Jake’s cowboy. “I need to get moving on this thing while I have the chance.”
So I spent a little time over the weekend on the outline I’ve neglected for a couple of weeks; partially because I had written myself into a corner and partially because I was consumed by The Hunger Games (thanks a lot Suzanne Collins!). Anyway, after escaping the previously mentioned trapped-in-a-writing-corner-situation, I completed what is tentatively Chapter 8 (aptly titled “Eight”) of the outline. I now have what I consider a solid foundation, intriguing and engaging characters, and some really gripping scenes. I also know how I want the story to end; which brings me to the question that is bouncing around my head like a game of Pong.
Should I just ditch the rest of the outlining phase and go straight to the writing?
My gut tells me no. I’ve written stories before with no particular path ahead of me, just an idea and a blank piece of virtual paper. In those situations, I almost always get lost, have a hard time finding my way back, and end up curled up off the beaten path, muttering something like, “How could I have ever thought that the addition of a talking beaver would make sense?”
When I decided to journey down the road of the novelist, I told myself that this would be a serious undertaking. That the end result, no matter when it came, would be something to be proud of – not just a half-assed attempt to be completed for the sake of completion. Therefore I feel the need to continue on with the outline, so as to feel comfortable with the bricks I’m about to lay before I begin adding the mortar.
But then there’s the little man inside. The voice that says get on with it already. Start writing this masterpiece before you come up with excuses not to. I hate the little man. He’s nothing but trouble.
Once the infighting has subsided however, I’m confident I’ll make the right decision, which for me, is sticking with the outline. I’ve been using a software I was given for my birthday known as NewNovelist and it has been extremely helpful in organizing my thoughts. Sure, I still carry around the little red notebook for those moments when mediocrity brilliance appears out of nowhere, begging to be recorded. But the program provides a home for all my characters, settings, scenes, and random eureka! moments.
I’ve read blogs by several other writers, all of which are far more talented than I. Some advocate for the outline, others refer to themselves as “pantsers” (as in “fly by the seat of your pants”) and refuse to let “structure” stunt their creative flow. I still don’t know where I fall since this is my first attempt at a serious project such as a novel. Perhaps I’ll listen to my little man one day and try the pantser approach, but for now I think it best to stay the course.
So, what is your answer to the question: To outline or not to outline?
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