Thursday, June 4, 2009

On The Use of the Outline in Writing

After experiencing a significant chunk of days with writers block, it got me thinking about something I initially said to my publisher during some of our first correspondences: they asked if I ever got writers block. At that point, I truly hadn't.

Because I had no idea what I was doing when I first sat down to write Armageddon - TBODS, I was completely free in the way I did it. Good or bad, I'd throw whatever thought came to me down on the page, ignoring all thought and "rule." The book was written all the way through from beginning to end, without a significant deal of backtracking until I was following up with latter drafts (of which I had somewhere between fifty and one hundred on the first book). I went on to add to my answer to the publisher, stating that the outline is what kept me on track, and I realized that I needed to follow that advice again.

Now I know what you're thinking; not every writer uses an outline, right? That's very true, but I can tell you that a good deal of them could benefit from doing so, and that not all genre's have the same pitfalls and hangups. I write fantasy literature. I've always loved it, and while I might one day stray a bit, I've got nice series here I'd like to finish up before considering that. Fantasy fiction is a lot about world-building, timelines, events, locales, and then the more standard, interesting plot threads and characters. With all these former items, there's a LOT to keep track of, and I think that's one of the primary reasons I always recommend using both a timeline and an outline.

Never overlook the ability you have with an outline, to jump forward or backward to a new spot in order to keep the flow of writing going, primarily on your first draft. By your second draft, you should have the overall structure mostly worked out, so it becomes less likely you'll be relying much on your outline and timeline, rather than what you've already put down. I realized that I wasn't fully following my own advice when I was getting stuck, and I realized just exactly what halted people up. I never really understood what professional writers got "blocked" on until I tried to apply some of the rules of pacing and making sure each word counted, right from my first draft. I'll be glad to listen to someone tell me I shouldn't worry about that. Maybe I shouldn't right away, but that's not really my point. My point is, that I should've not let days go by where I didn't write. I should've jumped ahead in the story and took it up from there. In the first draft, who cares if it doesn't quite mesh up with the other writing I'd already done by the time the two seams of writing come together. That's what multiple drafts are for: spit n' polish.

Now that I'm starting to get the hang of this blogging thing, I'm kind of enjoying myself. I hope you are too... or will, once I've attracted any sort of readership, but for now, this is for me.

Terry Tibke

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