I think there’s a disconnect in my brain when it comes to outlining. The one time I truly did it (because I was forced to), I did find it helpful in getting the story written. But, I also changed the outline completely several times because, as I was writing, I found the story and characters taking me in different directions.
For me, I think there has to be a hybrid approach moving forward – part outliner, part pantser. The pantser in me (or ‘discovery writer’, if you prefer) will start a billion stories and finish, maybe, 1% – which isn’t good. I also don’t like being boxed in by an outline. There’s a part of my brain that feels like – once it’s been written down, you are tied down. I know that isn’t true, but it’s a wall I’m creating for myself, which is probably why I avoid outlining in the first place. Having said that, I want to write as full a concept of the story as I can manage before I start writing. Some people might say, “Yes, that’s a great idea, dumbass – why haven’t you been doing that all along?” Well, in the past, I get an idea and I just sit down and write. Don’t get me wrong, that’s worked okay for me. I need to ramp it up a little, though, if I want to move forward.
So, I have to write down a couple of important things:
- What is the story about?
- How does it end?
I know that sounds stupid-simple. But it’s not – not for me. I get distracted by the idea. An idea popped into my head one night – all about ‘consumption’, a word used to describe a sickness in the American Old West – and started writing immediately. I had no idea where the story was going, but I had to write it. That’s how the ideas hit me and take over my brain. Luckily, I completed Consumption, but not all the story ideas have such happy endings.
With those two things listed above in place, I can move forward and let the characters take me where they will on that path. Without them, I end up with a writing folder full of half-finished ideas.
And that isn’t gonna get me where I want to go.