I write by the seat of my pants and I don’t outline. Those words make me cringe. They’re a recipe for mediocrity without a few qualifying sentences. Maybe more than a few.
I’ve written all of my life, academically and professionally. My writing got high marks and was well received by my professional peers. Does that mean I was a good writer?
Absolutely not. In 1995, I began writing nonacademic fiction and nonfiction full time. In that year, I had a cataclysmic and extremely painful personal breakthrough. The idea for an entire series of books was “injected” in my head almost instantly in a healing transcendental breakthrough. I had had big experiences before, but I’d never had one associated with writing.
A lot came with that Big Bang of the mental/spiritual type. With the idea for the series, I received the self-discipline to finish my books and see them in print. The discipline to finish was a big thing. Before that experience, I’d started dozens of books only to peter out about chapter three. Not any more. I’ve got six or seven award-winning books in print and eBook form. The just-released Mogollon: A Tale of Mysticism & Mayhem is the second book in the Bloodsong Series. Another Bloodsong book or two will be out in 2014.
In 2007, another personal tragedy resulted my writing in the Earth’s End Trilogy, my dystopian sci-fi series.
How did I do that? I employ a writing technique I call “literature through disaster.” Giant personal catastrophes jar my depths and somehow kick out ideas for books. And more books. After these ideas appear, I’m able to cut through procrastination, writer’s block, laziness, fear, and all the other demons that bedevil writers. The impetus for the writing outflow is very painful emotionally, but I’m able to finish books, including all the very hard work involved in getting them into print.
It’s a personal gift, literature through disaster. I don’t think you really want this gift, but it’s how I work. What I get when I have one of these experiences is a gestalt, which means a big, integrated hunk of meaning, images, feelings, memories, and physical sensations delivered as a whole. The gestalt is more than the sum of its parts.
Bazaam! An entire book pops into my head in a second. I don’t have to outline it; I just write it down.
In a blog article, I discuss Jungian personality types as they apply to writers. This is very important information for scribblers. What I have just described is how an intuitive type creates. A thinking type would do things very differently. The rational and orderly thinking type is most likely to write with elaborate outlines and methods of tracking his/her work. That’s how a thinking type operates. The other two types––sensate and feeling––might or might not outline, depending on how they’ve learned to be creative and successful.
A sensate, for whom physical sensation and the present moment is important, might outline as a way of creating structure. Think football players and sports types when you think sensate. The feeling type, interested in relationships, and orientating him or herself with feelings, might outline a book as a way of providing a logical structure that is hard to muster internally. The romance genre is to province of feeling types.
I don’t outline. I get big, intuitive explosions occasionally that provide me with years’ worth of writing material. I just write it down. Does that mean I spend my days floating in a swimming pool, chugging down Margueritas while thinking positive thoughts?
No. I work really hard, seven days a week. What I didn’t say when I said I don’t outline is that I spent nine years in a writing group run by a local poet. I spent an additional two years in a writing group run by a professor of literature and English. I’ve spent the last seven years working with an excellent content editor. She’s tougher than all of them. I know when may editor gives me a manuscript back, it won’t have an extra word.
I’ve internalized her comments and apply them automatically when I write. “Your point of view is wandering. This doesn’t move the story forward. Why did he/she do that? Shorten this. Give me more on this. The totally leaves me cold. I don’t understand this part.”
I’ve got my own writing group automatically functioning in my head.
In Outliers: The Story of Success, Malcolm Gladwell says that individuals require 10,000 hours of practice of a skill to become outstanding in it. He cites all sorts of examples from the Beatles to Bill Gates. My experience in writing (as well as riding horses) indicates he’s absolutely correct. You must spend your hours in the saddle before you can ride the horse.
As a writer, you can’t just not outline. You have to train your mind to order and discipline the words coming out of you. You have to learn to feel the flow and pacing of plot. Outline or not, you have to work like crazy. And you have to have your work edited by as good an editor as you can find. Maybe do a couple of go-rounds of content editing. Then you have to have your work copy edited and proofread.
If you want to sell your stuff, you have to do the work. Otherwise, you’re perpetrating garbage on your fellow human beings and contributing to the sorry reputation of indie publishing.
So. I don’t outline. I write by the seat of my pants. It’s really hard work and I’d do it another way, but I don’t know how.
Do what you have to do.