A brief outline

Don’t try this at home

I know a lot about how other people write, mainly because of the advice I’ve gotten about writing over the years.  That’s almost unavoidable, because writers talk to each other quite a bit, or at least more than practitioners do in most professions.  One reason for this is that writing and masturbation are basically the only things one does alone almost exclusively, and doing too much of one thing alone can cause insanity and probably a rash.

Another, more important reason, is that writers sometimes need to come out of their bunker to confirm that what they are doing and the way they are doing it is “right”.  (This point also works for masturbation.)  And so you will find large aggregations of writerly types gathered in various real life and online locales, discussing the process of writing, breaking down what they do and how they do it, and how they can do it better the next time.

I am here today to tell you not to do anything the way I do, because according to all of the advice I have been getting I should not have finished any of my novels.

My approach

1: get an idea for a story.

2: spend a week or two drinking.

3: start writing the story at the beginning.

4: stop when I’ve gotten to the ending.

5: spend a week or two drinking.

6: edit.

7: repeat 5 and 6 as many times as necessary.

Things I do not do:

  • draw up an outline
  • make character sketches
  • keep notes
  • write anything out of order in the first draft
  • work through a section I know needs a rewrite to get to the next section

I do sometimes question my own sanity, yes

I’ll be the first to admit my life would probably be easier if I could figure out how to skip a difficult section, say, in order to get to a section I know how to write.  or to plan out an entire story ahead of time and just fill in the details.  Or have a sheet on-hand that I can refer to whenever I forget what town a character said they were born in.

Outline AND Character Sketch

And I have tried to do these things, but every time, without exception, I failed to complete the attendant projects.

Basically, I write the way I read.  As a reader I know everything about what I have read and what I am reading and nothing about what I haven’t read yet.  As a writer, I can’t keep writing if I know exactly what’s coming next.  In other words, I need to be the reader while I’m writing.  This rules out not just outlining, but character development and everything else.  I can’t do a character sketch that brings up anything not eventually discovered within the text, and I can’t create a character background prior to that character being introduced to the story.

The downside–okay, one downside–is that as soon as something is written down it becomes True to me.  I often find myself saying things like, “But I can’t have her shoot the gun here, because she said earlier that she doesn’t know how to use one.”  I actually have to step away and remind myself that the reality of fifty pages earlier is one that I have the power to adjust.

Which, incidentally, should answer the question “but why do you drink between edits?” for you.

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No Comments

  1. Kate Haggard on July 1, 2010 at 1:42 pm

    You mean I’ve been doing it wrong the entire time too? Shoot. Pass the scotch, please.

    • genedoucette on July 1, 2010 at 1:44 pm

      It’s not scotch; it’s “editing helper”

      • Kate Haggard on July 1, 2010 at 1:49 pm

        Oh, right. Which reminds me to schedule some time with Mr Dewar’s before August.

  2. Tao Joannes on July 1, 2010 at 1:58 pm

    I’ve been the opposite.
    Every time I’ve tried to start a novel-length project without an outline, I get lost after about the third chapter, give up, and try something else.

    I’ve gotten further with the current approach, I had the idea, sketched out the plot (guess you could call it outlining) with a one-sentence paragraph summarizing the key points of each potential chapter.

    When I’m inspired to work on a particular part of the story, I write it, the order has been (parts of) 9, 1, 10, 7, 2, 5, 8, 3, so far.

    The story has changed from the initial planning, character names, backstory, some details of how things went down, have all been adjusted to make it work, and chapter 3 is a scene that wasn’t in the original plan at all.

    Still working on it, should finish it, someday, lol.

    • genedoucette on July 1, 2010 at 2:19 pm

      I remember being told–about feature screenplays, which is slightly different–to be courteous at all times to the writer, because it is a hell of a thing to be able to complete a feature film script. Even if it sucks.

      Not that the sucking part applies, but you get my point: it’s a hell of a thing to finish a novel.

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