What kind of writer are you?

I’m wondering how other writers go from Point A to Point B as far as getting their stories out of their head and onto paper.

I, personally, believe that the hardest part of writing is sitting my ass down in the chair when there are so many other things that I could be doing. Like, lunch dates with my friends. Or housework. Or root canals.

So, I tend to “reward” myself with treats on those days when sitting down to write feels like a monumental task (something akin to having said root canal without the anesthesia). And those treats always seem like a really good idea, like dangling a carrot in front of a horse, until about twenty minutes later when I’m coming down off my sugar high and jonesing for my next big fix.

But as far as actually putting the words on paper stuff, here goes: I AM NOT AN OUTLINER. (There, I've said it)

Instead, I’m a jump-right-in-and-see-where-this-thrill-ride-takes-me kind of gal. Which is not to say that outlining isn’t a valuable tool. It is. Or that I don’t know where my story is going. I do. Sort of. And I’ve probably even written it down, kind of, on a scrap of paper that I’ve stuffed into a folder marked: “The Novel I’m Working on Right Now”. Which is…somewhere.

I do, however, use Plot Points. My story has a plan, and I know that, along the way, certain things are going to happen at certain points. It’s the filler in between that’s a surprise…the how I’m going to get from one point to the next, that just kind of evolves.

My problems with outlining are these:

1) I generally have my best ideas while I’m working. I’ll get to a pivotal scene, somewhere in which I haven’t figured out exactly what is going to happen next…and I’m there…and I’m in it…and AH-HA! Just like that, I’ve got it all figured out. And generally, that changes the direction of where I might have thought I was heading, even if only a bit.

2) I’m just not that organized.

3) I feel like I’m stuck once I’ve outlined, like that is the story that I MUST tell. And what if it isn’t? What if I’ve gotten to one of those Ah-Ha moments, and I want to stray? Then what? Throw away the outline? Are you kidding? It’s already written down. On paper. I’m not sure I can do it.

So, essentially, I sit down, open my Word Document, and start pounding away at the keys. Or spinning in my chair. Or checking my email. Or my blog. Or eBay…

  1. Does anyone else need a treat right now?


Christy Raedeke said…
Ah, it's so nice to read that someone else writes by the No Outline/Treat Bribes Plan! I feel the same way about outlines - I think because I was a copywriter for so long, it feels just like I'm back at work. I'm curious about how you do your Plot Points - do you have them in your head, on a graph, note cards, candy wrappers?
Hi Christy! It varies where I keep my Plot Points...right now, I have this ridiculously messy piece of scrap paper sitting beside my keyboard with scribbles all over it that list the key elements of where the story was headed. Each time I got to a point I would check it off, or if I changed it I would scratch it out and scrawl in the new direction. And along the edges I've written words I want to use, dates to remember in the storyline, AND a list of cell phones that I'm considering to replace my current one.

But candy wrappers probably make as much sense!
Leigh Purtill said…
No,no, no...an outline FREES you!! You got outlines all wrong- they don't want to constrict you or get in your way. They're there to guide you. Once you've befriended an outline, it's loyal, it's with you every step of the way from start to finish but an outline is flexible and understanding. If you gotta step out on it every once in a while on your journey, it's there for you when you get back.

Ugh, I want to be like you, Leigh, I really do. I tried to make friends with my outline for my Book Two. I wrote ten pages. TEN! And then proceeded to stray from it. At first just little flirtations, minor deviations. And soon I was out-and-out cheating on it, ignoring the outline, making plans with new notes...shinier notes, fresher notes. And eventually, I completely forgot about the old outline.

I tried, Leigh. Honest to God, I tried...
Leigh Purtill said…
Oh, Kimberly...that's okay. Your outline understands. It knows you tried. It'll be there for you next time you sit down, maybe it will even be there for you during the revision.

The outline never feels dissed.
Tam and John said…
As an English teacher, I think I'm bound by some law to promote outlines. Truth be told, I hate them!! Two things...one, if the outline is finished, then the story is finished, right? Oh, what? You mean I still have to write it? In complete sentences??? The other thing is that I'm like you - that written outline is like a sacred script - no veering away from THE WORD. No matter what happens. As you can see, the answer to all of this, for me, is to read you blog instead of writing my own. :-)
Great, my evil plan is complete...mwuahhhahhahha! Let the blog readings commence!!!

Next: You are getting sleepy...VERY sleepy...
Heidi Willis said…
I'm completely with you! I do sort of a three-act plan: this is what the major conflict is and about here it runs into a problem. Things continue to unravel until here, when a main character has to make decision that carries huge consequences. Then there are ramifications. And then there aren't. The end.

All the filler is fun... stuff I discover along the way. Characters that develop and make surprising choices and have surprising skeletons in their closets.

It's like my life. More spontaneous: I know I'm getting a day off for weeks ahead. it isn't until that morning that I decided, lets go skiing!

Okay, your evil plan has worked. I'm off to find chocolate so I can get back to writing!!
Yes, Heidi, that's the other thing I wondered about. Character development. I know there are worksheets and workshops and excercises all devoted to developing your character's quirks, personalties, and flaws. Again, I kind of like to discover *who* they are as I go. Generally, I have an idea, like the staid and solid father, the smart-ass friend, the seriously messed up beee-atch who will cause the protagonist a whole lotta grief. But *who* they are, their like and dislikes, are unraveled as the story unfolds.

But I know an awful lot of people who work MUCH better with the outline and character worksheets, so there's something to be said for diversity!
to me outline is like a map. If I am going to san fran, I dont want to end up in Oregon (no offense oregoners!). I map out the main highways but sometimes I end up taking the scenic route. wow that analogy turned out pretty neat(did I just say neat?)
PJ Hoover said…
I fluctuate on the issue. I normally have some pretty organized thoughts down, but I leave lots of room for deviations. And revisions.
And BTW I am way organized. I always have been.
Anonymous said…
You know I am exactly the same way with my writing I just let the words take course. Actually I've said it before and I will bring it up here as well, my characters are truly the ones writing the story. Outlines to me are a huge waste of time that can be spent toward actually writing the book!
PurpleClover said…
I'm definitely a strayer...even when I have my own outline. I think it should be called "organized suggestions"...I vote that outlines only come AFTER the finished piece. Otherwise, it's an "organized suggestion" that you do with what you will (I'm sure the editors would love that huh?)

I say if it's better the way you wrote it, get your agent to look and see if you need to go back or if it sounds better than the "organized suggestions".

I mean you got it right the first time...right?!
I'm a bit like you: I get an idea that I mull over a bit, and once I get a pretty good idea where it will be headed, I start writing, no outlines needed (mostly because I don't know where the story will end up, and it's better if I don't restrict myself early on). Plus, I hate wasting time on a ten page outline when I know once I finish it, I'll lose interest in the story anyways.
Katie Anderson said…
I love these kinds of "what's my process" posts!

I am totally ADD. Since I also am a screenwriter, I write scenes in no particular order. I guess it's like writing chapter 14 first, followed by chapter 52, then chapter 6, then maybe chapter 23 etc...

And then after a while I pick one and try to imagine what would immediately precede it, or follow it....

WHOA! that is WHACK! Anyway, I would die without my MAC and Scrivener which organizes it for me :))
Wow! I'm surprised how divided everyone is on this topic. Although...I believe if there were a formal poll taken...that we fly-by-the-seat-of-our-pantsers might take this round.

That said, there are a whole heckuva lot of outliners out there too.

I'm fascinated by the whole screenwriting thing though...jumping around in scenes. That's just crazy talk!
Brit said…
Outlines are not set in stone, they can change with the story.

When I began my current MIP - I needed an outline because so much was going on. It is nothing formal - just a Word document where I type plot points, next line - plot point, and so on. Sometimes, I type my notes for that certain area - more like a To-Do list.

(I'm a To-Do List Freak. I write To-Do's all the time)

BUT, even if I have a mini outline it did not take away from my writing and I don't sit and mull over it before I write. When I get to writing, it is just flowing out of my and that's it. I'm not bound by any agreement to my outline.

My characters develop as I write. I'll be cooking dinner and have an A-Ha moment and run over to scribble all over a notebook. I'll be writing and have an A-Ha moment. I'll be emailing writing partners and have an A-Ha moment.

In fact, just the other day, after said A-Ha moment, I dug out my old outline, which I was basically using as a status meter, I'd highlight when I'd written that scene, so I was seeing my progress. I updated my outline and the story is completely different than what it started as.

I do not believe an outline hinders you, it can be a useful tool - but there really is no "right" way. It is what works for you. OUtline, no outline, as long as we are writing and our story progresses - we're okay.
I totally agree, Brit, that there's NO right way. I believe that in so many things, not just writing. It's funny, even, that I don't outline more when I write because I am a rabid TO-DO lister as well. Like, freakishly. And my grocery list, organized by aisle to maximize my time in the store. Can you say c-r-a-z-y???

And I guess that's kind of what I consider my Plot Point lists, kind of To-Do lists for along the way. Very, VERY loose (and very vague) guidelines, practically written in hieroglyphics!
Tam and John said…
You're hilarious...someday I'll be happy to have 18 comments on my whole blog, let alone on one entry. Who cares if the votes tallied!
Yes, and yes!

LOVE treats. WORSHIP treats. But then . . . always need more treats. But they do help get my butt in the chair.

And outlines -- BLEH! I avoid them on early drafts for the same reasons, but I DO find them helpful in rewrites, once the bulk of the novel is already on the page and just needs fixing. Then, as much as I loooathe to do it, I'll work out a loose outline to keep me on track.
Stephanie C said…
Wow I'm so happy to hear others do this. I must admit I thought I was a bit of a freak sitting at my computer writing the main points of the story with nothing but a general Idea in my head and some notes and then filing in the in between stuff. I was scared I was doing it all wrong and utterly convinced other authors wrote a book from start to finish after much careful planning. Good to know I was wrong lol
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