As I’ve mentioned before, I started this whole writing game as a pantser, someone who wrote by the seat of her pants and only went back afterward to fix the inconsistencies that might crop up because of it. It worked for me, for a while. It was only during the writing of Kestrel’s Dance that I came to understand the comfort of writing from a plan. Somewhere around Chapter Nineteen I sat down and laid out the events that had to happen from that point to the end, broken into chapter-sized chunks. It made things so easy! Why hadn’t anyone told me about this before? *laughs* So when I sat down to work on the New Shiny, I thought, “Hey, I must outline this book from start to finish. I’ll lay out each and every event, complete with details and subplot woven in, before I start to write. Once I do that, I’ll whip through it in a matter of weeks, and I will be the baddest writer-girl around!”
When I was a student, whether I was writing papers on the stages of mortality or Julius Caesar or common hoof diseases of horses, all my teachers insisted on a formal outline. You remember those, don’t you? The ones that start with a thesis sentence, and under that is broad topic Roman Numeral I, followed by subtopics A, B, C, sub-subtopics of 1, 2, 3, and so on. I hated those bloody things in school. As a pantser, I couldn’t possibly write something brilliant while being constrained that way. I tended to take all my notes and write my papers, then create the outline to match. Well, that’s how I felt trying to outline the New Shiny. I couldn’t think of how to lay it all out in that tight, formal way. It was too big, there was too much and suddenly the writing felt less like fun and more like a Sisyphean boulder. I had a two page rambling document that told the whole story, but it was goofy and loose and not anything like a real outline.
As I mentioned in last week’s post, my darling husband gave me Secret Histories, the Tim Powers bibliography, for Christmas. It’s not just a list of his work, no sir. It includes early drafts, plotting notes and even 20,000 words of his first, unfinished novel. As a Tim Powers fan, I loved this book, but as a writer, I loved it even more. Because those plotting notes looked just like the goofy, rambling plan of mine. He even talks to himself in between ideas, something I do but don’t often admit. And it hit me…if it was okay for Tim Powers, a multiple award winning author of fantasy, to use a big organic stream-of-consciousness style of outline, well, then, it was okay for me, too! I know it won’t work for everyone, but it’s working for me. Once I have the whole thing worked out, I’ll break the rambly pages into chapter-sized bites, and ta-da! My kind of plan! I’m saved!
The point of all this is just to remind you that no one way is the right and true and only one, because there’s likely at least one writer out there somewhere who’s doing it the way you feel most comfortable. So don’t give in and don’t give up. It’s going to be an amazing year for all of us, I think.
Y’all just don’t tell my old English teachers, okay?