If you’ve been reading along for a while, you may have seen me talk about this before, but for anyone new, I’ll start with a little bit about what my writing process has usually looked like.
For most of my life, drafting has been a wild ramble that started with a character or a scene and expanded from there. Plot and structure have always been fixed and molded after the fact. Some call this discovery writing, some call it pantsing (because I’m flying by the seat of my pants) and I’ve just always thought of it as writing or drafting.
This method of writing has led to a very labor intensive and often excruciatingly hard editing and revision process. During work on my second book, this led to breaking down the entire thing by scene, looking at what that scene was supposed to be doing and then culling any scenes that weren’t essential. That led to a scene list and a plot outline and a complete rewrite of everything. I kept a bit of dialog here and there, and most of one scene, but other than that, I was writing everything from scratch to fit the new scene outline.
This lead to an attempt to write the outline first, and then do the drafting. It was the first time I’d ever tried it. Even back in school when outlines were required, I would work ahead and draft the whole paper, so I could then reverse engineer the outline. I’ve never liked them and always found them confining and creativity-reducing.
But I needed to redraft book three, which wasn’t finished, and the outline had worked for book two, so surely I could make this process work again.
It’s sort of worked. I have most of a draft of book three. I have a bunch of versions of the outline (including one that does a seven-point plot breakdown of the overarching plot and each subplot). I have most of the plot relevant scenes for the major overarching plotline. My subplots are a mess. Part of the problem might be that I’m trying to insert subplots that relate to certain characters who are not very important to the main plot, and thus it’s hard to add those scenes in a way that feels relevant. Part of it is that for seventy-five percent of the book half my characters are not interacting with the other half. I’m still working on how to make that structure work without confusing or boring readers.
It’s not a failed experiment, it’s just not as successful as I wanted it to be. I’m still struggling with the outline itself. I still struggle to write the scenes the outline calls for. The closer I get to the end, the harder it has been to write. This may have nothing to do with the outline process (the world is more insane than usual right now) but it’s hard to separate it out and remind myself that there are confounding variables.
This latest experiment wasn’t a fully from scratch project. It’s the third book in a series, which has its own difficulties, and it was about 50% written before I started working on the outline for the redrafting. I’ve been making progress. Pretty stable and consistent progress even, but it doesn’t feel the same. I’m not excited about the story or the characters or the ideas in the same way I was when I was originally drafting the first version, or the way I usually am as I draft a new project for the first time.
Maybe I’m just getting to the point where I’m realizing that writing is work. For the first fifteen years or so that I was actively writing, it was all just for fun, and just for me. I didn’t share my work much. I was praised for the work I did share, and that gave me confidence to keep writing. I took creative writing classes in high school, I took creative writing seminars in college, and even audited one in grad school because I missed it. (I’ve never loved writing short stories, but I do love being in a critique group or a workshop environment.) Now that I have one book out, and two more in revisions with the goal to publish them, it’s more than just fun and experimentation. Writing is work. And sometimes work is hard.
I’m going to keep pushing forward with the experiment and keep working on this draft so I can finalize book two and then book three and work on getting them in shape for publishing. I welcome any and all tips from those who learned to outline or those who always have.