Writer Life Lesson #24: Sometimes It’s Better Not to Outline

I have been working on a novel and its series for nearly eight years now. Several of them have had outlines and several of them haven’t. All of them have been started during National Novel Writing Month and a few of them have been finished. Why am I telling you about my projects in a post about outlining?

Because Sometimes it’s better not to outline.

The first few drafts of book one of my series, I outlined, which set the pace for the rest of the series. There are three point of views and each of them have twelve chapters. So thirty-six chapters per book. That’s easy enough, right? It helps with pacing and makes sure that the book doesn’t get too long and winded. “Ok, it’s section 10/12, time to start wrapping it up,”I think to myself as I write and begin to get bored with the plot after months and months.

The problem however, is that a lot of times when I get to section ten or eleven, I still have so much story and I shoehorn the plot in and plan to fix it later. It’s an ugly process, but for post-nano and finishing novels it works for me.

Until recently, that is.

I’ve lost count of the number of drafts that I’ve written for the first book of my series. I have tried to stick to the “Twelve chapters of each point of view, nice and tidy at thirty-six chapters” plan, but for this rewrite, because there is so much information in the first book that needs to be added in, I have decided to chuck my outline and chapter structures. I have decided to just write what needs to be written and fill in the blanks later.

I have the basic plot and know where the characters need to end up at the end of the novel, but I’m letting them surprise me with what happens in between and leaving myself notes as I go. It’s a freeing process, because the characters can breathe and have organic interactions and have time to expand before they all reach the end.

I’m finding so many more interesting things than I would have if I had stuck to my outline.  Some of my best novels so far have been ones where I have a loose outline or none at all.

If you’re stuck, try not outlining and see what happens.

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Writer Life Lesson #23: Write Three Sentences

Yes, you are reading that correctly. Just three sentences.

Life is busy for most writers. We have day jobs, kids, pets, outside life to deal with once we leave the page. Several things interrupt us from our stories and as more days pass it becomes more difficult to get back into the story.

We also have distractions, such as Netflix, TV, flash games. I have been guilty lately of giving into the distractions instead of writing and falling deeper into despair that I haven’t been writing.

How do I fix that? Write Three Sentences.

It almost seems too easy, right? For some of you, it might be. Some of you writers are probably thinking “That’s it?!”. But hear me out.

If you’re distracted, binging Netflix, stuck playing Facebook games, or catatonic after your day job, three sentences can feel like a mountain.

My new binge has been listening to podcasts. They can vary in length from fifteen minutes to an hour, sometimes an hour and a half. I’ve told myself that age old excuse of “I’ll write after this podcast ends” and then it automatically starts to play the next one and I think that same thought. Repeat Ad Nauseum until it’s time to go to bed.

What I have decided to do, and that works for me, is pausing the podcast, writing three sentences and then returning to the podcast, or the Netflix episode, or whatever else has been captivating my attention.

Over the past couple days, I have written about three thousand words just three sentences at a time. I’m in love with my story and characters again and am finally advancing the plot. An added bonus is I no longer have days where I don’t write anything. Even if it’s 100 words, that’s still something.

If you’re like me, and distracted by social media, Netflix, podcasts, TED talks, or anything else, and still wanting to write, pause that Netflix episode, that podcast, that TED talk, take a break from whatever is pulling you away from your writing and write three sentences .

Hopefully, when you do, one of these things will happen. You will either want to continue writing more than those three sentences or want to get back to whatever was distracting you. If you do go back to what was distracting you, try the three sentence rule again at the next break.

Even if you do just write three sentences at a time, eventually your project will be finished.

You Want to Be a Writer? Act Like One

These past few weeks, the entire month of February, has been strange for me. I had a tonsillectomy on the 31st of January and practically all of February was spent in bed recovering, or scrambling to get homework done as my semester for my bachelors program was winding down.

Yes, I know, I’m excellent at scheduling things and procrastination.

This strange time warp (thank you liquid Lortab for keeping the pain at bay and helping me catch up on much needed sleep, even if the nightmares were terrifying) left little time for me to write, and write coherently.

I was back at work for three days before this first cold whammied me into another week of bed rest. But it gave me a little more time to think and process, and yes, write!

I’ve been listening to a few new podcasts lately, all about writing and being a writer. There were a few that talked about whether or not a writer can call themselves a writer and what the criteria was or should be. Should you have a book published? A famous column in a newspaper? Can you be called a writer if only one other person, or no one has read any works?

I have always called myself a writer. I’ve started and finished several novels, short stories, plays and poems, not to mention blog posts and forum posts here and there. As far as I am concerned, I am a writer.

But over these past few months, I haven’t really been acting like a writer. I haven’t had that drive to finish something, or post something, or even think about writing in the least.

I am very pleased to say that today for the first time in a long while, I pulled out a short story that I wrote years ago and edited it. I’m not going to lie, I struggled to get motivated, to actually edit and not get distracted by the internet, or flash games, or more podcasts and posts about writing, but once I got into it and started, it was much easier.

I am a writer, and I am going to act like it.

#29: Dead Plants

She keeps the dead plants in their pots to remind her that she’s still living.

They’re dead and dried and curled up on themselves, but they remind her that even in the best conditions, things just die anyway.

She looks at the dead plants on her window sill and remembers to live her life to the fullest, never letting fear or inadequacy scare her.

She breaks barriers, and creates without question.

She lives, but the plants, just like parts of the old her, are still dead.

#27: Binoculars

He uses Binoculars because he is afraid to touch her. He’s afraid to talk to her, to face her head on. He’s scared because he fears she will laugh at him, reject him, avoid him.

He wants to talk to her, but the fear swallows him up whole. He finds that he likes watching her from afar.

The way she carries herself when no one else is watching. How calm and comfortable she is when no one else is around.

He wants to touch her, but she’s too far away.

Until she’s banging on his door at three in the morning.

#26: The Tree is Still Up

Dear you,

I drove by the park where we used to hang out after school. It’s been years, but the playground is still standing, the rust crawling up from the sand and eating away the paint. The benches are still there, cracking with age, splintering away more and more with each rain.

The tree is still up. The same tree where we carved our initials in a jagged heart. The same tree where we shared our first kiss. The same tree where you told me you were leaving.

It’s still there, and I’m still here.

Where are you?