"Outlines are the last resource of bad fiction writers who wish to God they were writing masters' theses." ~ Stephen King
"And I don't want to begin something, I don't want to write that first sentence until all the important connections in the novel are known to me. As if the story has already taken place, and it's my responsibility to put it in the right order to tell it to you." ~ John Irving
"I learned never to empty the well of my writing, but always to stop when there was still something there in the deep part of the well, and let it refill at night from the springs that fed it." ~ Ernest Hemingway
Over the course of the last decade I must have read over fifty How-To-Write books. Everything from scripting every single word to writing one true sentence at a time. But a good chunk of those books expressed that the most important thing that a writer could do for their story was to outline, outline, outline.
I did that method for my first book.
I wrote out directions, dialogue, plot, and even tone and objective of each chapter before I even wrote the word Prologue.
I thought I had to be chained to this type of device. To color inside the lines for fear that any originality would be lost or escape.
What happened instead was something very encouraging.
Every single time I strayed from the outline, when I'd let my mind wander, the story got better, sharper, grew some fangs.
On my second book, I briefly outlined the story but this time around I was looking forward to abandoning certain aspects of the outline.
Then, on my third book, I only outlined six chapters. Where did the rest of the book come from? Daydreaming, letting my mind wander, meditating on the story.
And you know what happened?
Not only did all of the elements I wanted to put into the core of the story suddenly appear, but I also found connections and crossovers to my other stories and crisp, witty dialogue came out of nowhere.
This was when I realized I was what they called a 'Pantser.' I know, it sounds like something a bully would do. But it's actually a term for writers. Johhny B Truant and Sean Platt describe that each writer falls into one of two groups: The Plotters - The people who outline everything about their story ad nausem. And The Pantsers - The people who kind of make everything up by the seat of their pants.
I enjoy the latter category.
Especially, since I've started the practice of Mindwriting.
Right now, even while typing this, I'm working on seven different novels. That's right. I'm multitasking.
It used to be that I'd take some time out of my day to think about a story and where it's going. But now, I'm thinking about them constantly. I'll map out a scene in my head while running an errand, try several different takes of a scene while at a party, experiment with dialogue doing the dishes, plot devices, character development, etc. Sometimes my wife will ask me what I'm thinking about because I get that far away look and every time I'll say, "Stories. I'm working on a novel."
Our minds are capable of a lot of things. We can figure out complex issues, learn languages or memorize entire scripts. But one thing I've always used my brain for is storage. I've created a room inside my mind with stories in the process of being written. And each one can be pulled up at a moments notice. That way, whenever I feel that the story has cooked for long enough and is just right, only then do I pull out the laptop and actually do the work of transcribing whatever was in my head.
One of the benefits of mindwriting is that it has helped me become more organized. Before, I had boxes filled with notebooks, receipts, post-it's, little scraps of paper with ideas written down. Tracking them all down was way too time consuming. So now, I keep everything up in the old noggin.
So, if you are up to the task, I encourage you to use your brain to its fullest capacity and keep the outline in your mind, where it belongs.
In the meantime, I've got one book that is already nearing the 300 page mark.
In my mind, of course.
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