Tag Archive | outlining

How My Writing Process Continues to Evolve

notebook_glassesI have written at least eight full-length novels, all of them mysteries. What may surprise you is my process of writing has never been the same. With each manuscript, I learned what worked and what didn’t. I think I picked this up through teaching. I’ve written stellar lesson plans that I was sure would inspire young minds but then found they only inspired me.  Next time around, I’d pull out the dull stuff and find something else that worked better. Same way with sewing, you can always do it just a little bit better next time.  (Yes, you Pattern Review people, I love to sew, but this darn writing gig keeps stealing my time.)  So what’s involved in writing  for me?

Outlining. Yes, I’m not a pantster. If you are unfamiliar with the term, a “pantster” is someone who writes whatever comes into their head instead of using an outline. These are the same people who can construct beautiful arguments and talk me into a corner in just a few minutes. I admire their ability to write like that, but I’ve always been a compulsive planner.  I can’t help it, and worst of all, I enjoy it. I can admit to myself that maybe my first idea is not always my best idea. I just came to the end of a full-length mystery, read back through it and changed the murderer.  I had to change all the clues and discard my efforts of putting the now defunct murderer in the right place at the right time, but darn it, I liked the character too much. I wanted that character to continue, not go to my bad guy file for the rest of eternity.  Time to re-outline…rewrite…a few more scenes… dinner is going to be late again.

Documentation. I keep a three-ring binder with sections on plots, subplots, characters, crime detail, research. Then I keep sections on Scrivener, a brand of novel-writing software. Then, I keep a computer file with more information.  One of the things I learned along the way is I have a lousy memory.  Keeping the binder came into my process about four books ago.

Audio Editing. I have an editor, but I can’t afford to have her around every day. I find many errors just by listening to each chapter read out loud.  It works. You hear things you might miss, for instance, the other night I read a chapter to my critique group and realized I said “little” four times on the same page.  By reading like this, you can better get back into the flow of the writing and the flow the reader will hear as they read your book.

Embrace Mistakes. That’s right. You are a human being and not a computer. Once you find an error, don’t waste time berating yourself. Fix it. Move on. It’s like painting a wall. See that ugly gash you made moving your husband’s oversized desk down the hall? It was a bad day. You don’t want to remember it. Spackle, sand, and paint. Voila! Rewrite, move things around, get rid of things that don’t work. Forgive your husband.

The Balance of Planning and Creativity


Planning and Creativity-Santa’s Least Known Elves

Here we at the ten-day marker for shopping days until Christmas. Do you have your shopping finished? Are you somebody who has beautifully wrapped gifts the bottom of your tree or are you somebody who is standing in line at the convenience store wondering if beef jerky is an appropriate gift for grandma? This is the time of year when the organized among us just sit back and laugh.

Christmas can creep up on you. Every year it seems like the minute I get last trick-or-treaters out the door, it’s just a hop, skip and jump to Christmas. Writing a novel can be the same way. This is where novelists often divide into two separate camps. The organizers versus the pantsers (as in writing by the seat of your pants) The organizers love to outline as they sit in their pristine little writing corners. They take time to write down every character, setting, plotline and subplot. They fill notebooks and computer files with all the stuff your English teacher was trying to instill in you. This method works and I’ll admit I’m an outliner, but my writing corner is not often pristine.

Some people hate to outline because it can put a cramp in the creative process. There are many famous writers who do not outline. F Arthur C. Clarke is an example and he seems to be doing pretty good with ol’ book sales. Still though, simply having a general idea of where your story is going to help you avoid that not limited that mid-novel slump that causes so many manuscripts to be put back in the drawer. Just like Christmas shopping if you had started your planning in January instead of Black Friday you might have a little less stress in your life. Also, just because you make an outline for a book doesn’t mean that you have to stick by it. In the past I always wrote an outline for my work-in-progress, but have changed that somewhat. I found that I would start out following each plot point closely and then the characters and the storyline would take me over. After awhile I would check my outline and it would be totally wrong, kind of like playing your favorite song on an out-of-tune guitar.

Now I sit down and write pre-synopsis even before I write the first word on page. It usually takes me between four to six pages to write the main plotline of a book. I put that into Scrivener and label it “Working Storyline.” I also write one for each subplot and then add it into the story as it fits. Once all of these writing paths are established I use my pre-synopsis and break it down into scenes (outline time) and then highlight part each part as I write through the scenes until I have the entire document blinding me in bright yellow. I don’t stick to it completely because that can mess up the flow of my creativity.  I do try to  stay as close to it as I can.

Just like Christmas shopping, planning the way you create your fictional worlds is up to you. It is also process that needs to change in order to evolve into a good story.  My kids would ask for one toy when the obnoxious Christmas ads started in October and I would run out and buy it. By December they would want the toys in that month’s ads and I would be stuck with October’s toy. The answer to next your question is yes, my kids opened plenty of October toys on Christmas morning. Luckily in writing you can throw out October and always be able to afford to buy that brand new December idea. So the trick here is to think about ways that you can organize and plan ahead without stifling your creative process. You may be a detailed organizer or a pantser, but either way you do it -don’t stop! The bottom of your tree needs a gift or two.