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Thursday, February 14, 2013

A Letter to Myself



I’ve never been an outliner.  In high school, when the teachers demanded outlines before we passed in our papers, I wrote my paper first then created the outline based on what I’d written.  I’m sure this indicates some kind of brain deficiency, a backwards way of thinking, but it was the only way that worked for me.  I couldn’t write an outline before I knew what I was going to write.
  
More recently, I’ve tended to write my stories in a similar fashion, although in order to avoid getting totally lost, I keep track of characters and locations in an Excel spreadsheet.  I keep it open while I write and each time I invent someone or something new, I add it to the table.   This helps me remember names and places…so I don’t call someone Simon in the third chapter, and Terrance in the 25th.  Separate from the spreadsheet, I write detailed character descriptions, so I know what each character looks like and what they eat for breakfast, so it's all good there.

But while helpful, these practices don't do much for plot. 

I began writing what I hope will be a new novel several months ago, but struggled. I had a main character; an inciting event, some periphery information plus thoughts of how things will end, but no idea how to get there.  Even I recognized an outline would have helped.  But similar to my struggles in high school, I couldn’t figure out how to write one, since I didn’t know the story.

Last week, I mentioned my dilemma to one of my amazing critique partners and she suggested I write a letter as if telling her the story.  Growing up, I was an avid letter writer, so this felt more like fun than an assignment.  Imagine my delight when during the process, the stages of my tale revealed themselves to me. The next time I sat down to work on the project, I knew where I needed to go.  I've been writing ever since.

So, while I, II, III, a, b, c and i, ii, iii may not work for me, I’ve learned something.  Regardless of how it's structured, it helps to have a plan.  Once that's in place, following it makes the writing easy.

How do you organize your writing?

15 comments:

Alex J. Cavanaugh said...

And now you can outline!
My outline isn't organized. Tt's just a couple pages of what will happen, similar to your letter.

Alex J. Cavanaugh said...

It's - sorry about that!

Anne Gallagher said...

Yay!! I think that's the easiest way to do an outline because it's not so set in stone, like Ch. 1 this happens, Ch. 10 that happens.

An open letter is more like, "Well, sometime after this, then that could happen but if that doens't work, maybe I'll try the other."

Free flowing outlines have always worked for me. And I highly recommend them.

'Yellow Rose' Jasmine said...

What a great idea! And here I thought I was the only one secretly doing the 'outline' after the fact...
I'm glad this worked out so well for you. It's great to be happily writing away!

Elsie The Writer said...

I've never heard of doing that before, what a neat idea! Thanks for sharing it.

Robin said...

Thanks for sharing this strategy. We all get stuck as writers and it is so exceedingly frustrating. I have been stuck so long that I feel permanently rutted. Perhaps this idea will help break me free and get my story moving again!!!

Dianne K. Salerni said...

One of my critique partners suggested interviewing the major characters. She offered to provide the questions, because she had read my opening chapters and knew what I was struggling with.

I was skeptical, but I found writing out responses in the voices of my characters helped me get to know them and their motivations better.

mshatch said...

I have outlined before and found it worked really well but then for whatever reason couldn't repeat the performance. I know the end but there's still a whole lot in the middle that has a big ? I like that idea of writing a letter though, maybe I'll try it :)

Susan Gourley/Kelley said...

That's a new idea to me but a good one.

Carol Kilgore said...

Well...I could have written this post. At least the beginning of it. The best thing I've found so far is to do all the character and spreadsheet stuff and then make a timeline. Maybe I'll try a letter with the next project.

Happy Weekend!

Carolina Valdez Miller said...

That's a brilliant idea! I've never been an outliner either, not in the typical sense. I do a lot of preliminary work before I begin writing, and take a lot of notes as I draft, but little of it would make sense to anyone looking on. I think you just need to find the methods that work for you, letting go of those that don't (without feeling like you're somehow lesser for it). My first drafts are always a complete mess. It's only in the second and third drafts that my story starts to come together and the voice really comes alive. And still, I continue taking notes as I go (finally doing something kind of like an outline) and rewrite several times before I really begin to "revise." My last wip had twelve drafts before I ever did anything with it. LOL

Catherine A. Winn said...

What a great idea about writing the letter! I do a a little planning/outlining but let the novel take me where it wants to while keeping a vague idea in mind about how it's supposed to end. I also find myself adding to the outline as new sub-plots reveal themselves.

J.B. Chicoine said...

Yep, I'm more in the 'outline-after-the-fact' camp, also. And I too start my novels with and inciting incident, some character sketching and an ending, but it takes me a long time to come up with that in-between plot stuff! I like the idea of writing myself a letter...I'll have to try that.

As far as outlining goes, depending on the story structure, I might start my 'outlining' midway through the writing process, (like in the case of my current project where I switch between present and past tense), but I do it more as guideline so I can keep track of just what I've got going on and when.

Manzanita said...

Hello,
I saw your name at Robins and came over to introduce myself and join your bog friends but I already have. Ha.
I notice you write in long hand. I do a lot too. I use fountain pens and I love to write with them. I prefer early morning too. Very early.
Love and peace
Manzanita

Searching for the Story said...

It's great that you've found something that works for you. I'm exactly the same with outlines; in college I'd always write the essay first and then create the outline the professors insisted on having.