Taking My Own Advice…Sort Of


We dispense a fair bit of advice on this blog, so I thought all of you would be pleased to know that I actually took my own advice the other day and it actually worked.

I got back from WorldCon energized to write.  Unfortunately, I’d been away from home and my current work in progress for three weeks and I had totally forgotten what I was doing with the story.  I assumed that I’d read the last two chapters I’d written and would soon find myself back into the flow of the book.  Didn’t happen.  Some of you may remember that right before I left for our family vacation and WorldCon I wrote a post about The Writer’s Wall, which I generally hit right around the two-thirds mark.  That’s where I was when I left for points West.  I had hoped to avoid The Wall by taking the time off and coming back to the book fresh.  Instead, I found myself running headlong into it.  Not fun.

So what did I do?  First off, I read through what I’ve written of the book thus far, starting from the very beginning.  Why?   Because I needed to remind myself of what I’d done with all the various plot threads.  I remembered in a vague sense, but sometimes I find that it’s the small details that often act as cues for future plot twists.  I needed to familiarize myself once more with the characters, the narrative flow of the book, and the hints I’d left along the way to point my readers and (in this case me as well) in the right direction.

Then I sat down in front of my computer and started writing out a stream of consciousness conversation with myself about what I still needed to do with the book.  The first line read, “Help!! What needs to happen at the end of the g__d____d book??!!”  As I mentioned in my post about The Wall, this stream of consciousness thing is something I do quite a bit and recommend highly.  I ask myself questions and respond to them, typing the entire exchange as I go along.  Why do I type it?  Personal preference.  I tend to process information best visually, particularly when it’s information about writing.  If you process information differently, by all means skip the typing part.  But this approach usually works for me.

It did this time.  I started the stream of consciousness thing late Friday morning.  By quitting time Friday afternoon, I’d outlined the remaining chapters of the book.  Now, you may be asking yourself, “Hadn’t he outlined the book prior to starting it?”  And yes, that would have been a very clever thing to do.  Had I done it, I mean.  That would have been clever.  Outlining is good.  Unfortunately, I hadn’t taken that particular piece of advice to heart when I first began.  I outlined the early chapters of the book, fully intending to outline the rest once I was well into the project and had a better sense of where the book was headed.  I’ve known for a while how the book ends.  I just wasn’t entirely certain how to get there.  [Note to self:  Next time outline the WHOLE book.  Idiot.]

Anyway, all is right with the world now.  (At least the world I’m writing about.  Our own world remains thoroughly screwed up.  But that’s a post for a different venue.)  I know where I’m going with the book AND I know how to get there.  All because I took my own advice.  Er. . . except on the whole outlining thing, which I pretty much blew off. 

So I guess the moral of this post is that you should take all of our advice to heart and not just pick up on the little snippets that seem to work for you while ignoring the rest.  Except that’s terrible advice right there.  Not all of our advice is going to work for you.  You really should pick and choose.  So maybe the moral of this post is that I should take my own advice to heart rather than picking and choosing which things I want to do and which things I don’t.  Yes, that’s the moral.  Turns out this was really a post for me more than for you.  I probably should have mentioned that up front.  Could have saved you some time.  Sorry about that.


13 comments to Taking My Own Advice…Sort Of

  • Hey! I type stream of conciousness conversations with myself. I like having the record so that later I don’t go, “What was that brilliant idea I had about saving the world? Something involving peanut butter… or was that lunch.”

    Glad you got your problem solved.

  • Okay, I’m pretty sure that I’ve never had a brilliant idea involving peanut butter. I’m more a condiment writer myself. I had a terrific idea involving stone ground mustard several years back. And don’t get my started about the wasabi epiphany I had in ’06…

    And by the way? I hereby claim as my own the title “The Wasabi Epiphany.”

  • Not fair, David.
    The Wasabi Epiphany is too perfect to hog all to yourself.

  • I had a wasabi epiphany the first time Todd brought me sushi.

    It hurt. A lot. :p

  • Didn’t complete that outline before you wrote the first word? That brief roar of applause you heard was from us Fog Walkers, who blithely tackle each new book without a freakin’ clue where we’re going. Outlines? We spit on outlines. But first we’d have to create one.

    You were so close to joining us. Maybe next time. Misery indeed loves company. Still, we’re glad to hear you’re back on track. Welcome home.

  • Try ‘Thai Green Curry Revelations’, that it hurts just as much the next morning going out as it did going in the night before…. note to self: no more hot curries.
    Glad you got back into the swing of things, now to get that to rub off and work over here.

  • Beatriz


    It’s not nice to make me laugh so hard I spew Diet Coke all over my keyboard.

    Curious question— you mention you hit the Writer’s Wall about 2/3 of the way into most books. Do you usually outline your books before you start? Is so, then does the outlining prevent The Wall, or at least make it more manageable?

    (and thanks, because now I’ve got Pink Floyd in my head AND Diet Coke all over my keys)

  • Thanks for the comments all. Faith, sorry, but I licked the title, so it’s mine now….

    Misty, yeah those big gobs of wasabi will do that to you. I can’t wait to write a story that involves that feeling in some way. 🙂

    Yeah, Jana, I tried the seat of my pants approach this time in a limited way. Not sure I liked it so much. I’ll have to see how I tackle the next project.

    Natalie, I LOVE curries, particularly Panang curry. But they can be a bit rough the next day….

    And Beatriz, so sorry about the Diet Coke. Well, okay, not really. But I felt the apology would be polite. As for your question: yeah, the outline can help, but I’ve hit the wall with an outline and without. The Wall, is as much a loss of confidence in the story as anything else, and at times even a really detailed outline won’t stop a writer from doubting him- or herself. At other times, I suppose it can keep the crisis from happening. Certainly it might have in this case. And sorry about the Pink Floyd thing. Well, okay, not really…..

  • L. Jagi Lamplighter

    Do you normally outline, David?

    I was much cheered when I found out from an experienced agent once that writers fall about half and half into outline and don’t outline.

    He explained that for the “organic writers” their first draft was basically their outline, so they tended to revise more than those who can write outlines ahead of time.

    However, he said that really good books have come from both types of writers. So either approach can work.

  • David,
    I have resisted this for nearly 24 hours because all know my fingers can’t spell, and surely it was a typo…

    But the image of … of you licking the title makes me snort. And go ewww. (My kid brother once licked all the Oreos in the box so no one else would eat them.) So okay. It’s yours. You licked it, you claimed it, you got it.


  • Jagi, I used to outline all the time. Now I do MOST of the time, but in far less detail than I used to. With this book I didn’t do much outlining, and I paid for it last week. I now have the rest of the book outlined and I’m happy. It’s funny though, I think of organic writing as being something other than writing without an outline. But I have a hard time defining it, so I’m probably wrong in what I think it is.

    Faith, that last comment had me laughing aloud, and Alex thought it was hilarious, particularly the part about your brother. I’m not usually a big fan of television ads, but there was a car ad several years ago in which a guy is on a new car lot and he’s decided on the car he wants. But his salesperson has walked away and another salesman is walking toward him and his chosen car with a couple who clearly want the same car. So he licks the door handle and then gives them a look that says, “So there!” I used to laugh every time I saw it.

  • Yeah, yeah, that’s my brother!
    And now you…
    Hugs to Alex!

  • “(My kid brother once licked all the Oreos in the box so no one else would eat them.)”

    Eeeeuwww! I used to think it was icky when my little sister put her feet on me in the car. I might have thrown up if I’d ever caught her licking the cookies.