Saturday, March 29, 2014

Is it Possible? Am I...an Outliner?

I decided to try something new.

Not just diving into the shiny new idea that percolated up amid thought of endless winter and certain pervasive themes and imagery in folk tales.  (Yep, that's all I'm giving away for now!)

I decided to try outlining.

I've never been an outliner.  I never described myself as a complete pantser--I always knew where the story was going next.  I sketched out ideas in a big blue notebook.  I kept notes and wrote down thoughts and worked out a rough plot arc in scrawled handwriting.  But I never wrote out an outline--a full-fledged map of the plot, a "first this then this then the next thing" outline.

And I liked it that way.

After spending over a year in the revision stage of one manuscript, however, mainly hammering out plot arc issues, I decided to consider another tack.  Not that there was anything wrong with the process for that novel--if there was, it was the kind of happy accident that gives us chocolate chip cookies, because I'm pretty happy with its progress. Or, maybe, it was the structure of this new story in and of itself--alternating viewpoints within a fairly straightforward storyline (ok, gave away another leeetle bit).  Either way, I wanted to play with a method I'd never tried before.

Long story short (kinda like an outline), I have the whole thing outlined.  Except a squishy part at the two-thirds mark where I'm just not quite sure what catalyst causes the marbles to start rolling again.  In either case--it's more outlining than I've ever taken a crack at before and, lo and behold--a magical thing happens when I sit down to write.

I don't think through what I need to do today.  I don't agonize over "What next? Shoot! I thought I knew what went here, but it's all running together..."  Nope.  I look at my roadmap, skim over what came before, and write.

It's fun.  And I'm amazed by the leeway an outline still allows--the muse seeps in, whether you outline or pants it.  She can't be kept out.

More words are waiting for me.  And an outline that can't be ignored.

Thursday, March 13, 2014

Day in the Life


5:30  The Toddler wakes up.  Ergo, I wake up. I wish this said 6:30.  It does not.

6:00-7:30 Blind fumblings for the crib, dressing of self and others, COFFEE, breakfast, out the door.

7:45 The Toddler gleefully heads into daycare.  I drive to work, enjoying the flat morning landscape of the Midwest, concocting in my head a dozen poetic ways of describing cornfields in various states of weather.

8:30-12:30  Work.  Tutor college students in writing fundamentals and grammar that apparently no one teaches anymore.  ("Wait, what's a predicate?").  Occasional lightbulb moments.  Prod my Online Writing Lab toward productivity and away from apathy.  Mostly fail.

Employ Write When Not Writing method to make notes about the project I'll tackle later.  Eat homemade granola bar at 10:30 promptly, daily.

1:00 Pick up The Toddler, drive home, immediate naptime.

1:00-3:00 God willing, The Toddler naps and I write, shove something resembling lunch into my face, and keep writing.  Sometimes coffee happens.  Let's rephrase this one:

1:00-3:00 WRITE.  WRITE FASTER.

3:00-5:00 Play with The Toddler, chase cats, make dinner, throw in a load of laundry, vacuum (do not vacuum chased cats), five thousand other things.

5:30 Dinner.

5:45 Clean up giant Toddler Dinner Mess.

6:00-7:00 Play, wind down, gaze longingly at open bottle of Shiraz on sideboard.

7:00 Bedtime.

7:30-9:00 WRITE. WRITE FASTER.  Also, pour a glass of that Shiraz.  Occasionally view DVD with The Husband.  Currently working through Homeland and Game of Thrones and horribly disappointed by Downton Abbey.

9:30 Crash.

Saturday, March 8, 2014

Write When You Aren't Writing

The best way to get writing done?

Sit down and write.

The challenge of getting writing done?

Finding enough time to sit down and write.

Some of the best writing advice I’ve seen out there centers around one central theme—just sit down, take the blank page head on, and write. You've seen it, too.  It's great advice. I particularly like this exploration of the  BICHOK method of writing: Butt in chair, hands on keyboard (from publishingcrawl.com).  

Trouble is, I don’t have the luxury of having long hours of blank pages and keyboards and words ahead of me on my average day.  I have work, a toddler, a house to take care of, cats who prefer being fed to not, and obligations crammed into the tiny boxes on my calendar so tightly that I’m  pretty sure they get into fights over the armrest when I’m not looking.

The dirty little secret is that the majority of us are in the same boat.  We may be taking our careers seriously, but we aren't career writers with schedules constructed around that single obligation.  We’re circus performers—juggling jobs like balls, keeping errands and chores in the air like spinning plates, and getting plenty of practice at being schedule contortionists.


So I find that I need to amend that excellent writing advice just a little.

The time when you aren't writing matters, too.  

When you can't be at your computer (or pen and paper or stylus and parchment or whatever the rest of you crazy kids use to write), you can still be an active writer.  While I'm driving to work, making dinner, whatever task occupies my hands but leaves a little bit of my brain untapped, I think about "what next" or "how to fix that plot problem" or "ways to show this or that character's personality."  

I keep a little blue notebook on me all the time.  When I have a little downtime but not enough to actually dive into writing (especially when I'm at work), I make notes on what I plan to do later.



Though this is a great tool for drafting, I'm finding it's even more helpful for revisions.  I can organize my thoughts and set a plan for what changes I'll make when I do get to my document--so that I don't have spend time on that kind of brainstorming later.  

And it doesn't have to be pretty.  Proof:


Oh, well, that doesn't look too...



Ok, yeah, looks like the scrawlings of a madman.  And I assure you, anything that looks like a formal outline is, um, not actually very formal.  At all.

It's ok.  It helps me focus my thoughts, get the pre-writing stuff out of the way, so that when I get to my computer, there's nothing between me and productivity.  

Do you have any tips for "writing" when you're not writing?  For making the time you have to write count?