Wednesday, April 6, 2011

Writer's Wednesday: Latitude

(photo by Tabitha Bird)

"Working writers typically give themselves a lot of latitude in generating a first draft."
~ Ralph Keyes.

Liberate the Guilt
First drafts suck. No matter how much you preplanned, outlined, sketched or chiseled before you start the writing, the first draft will still suck. I have yet to hear from a writer who outlined till the cows came home and thus managed a perfect first draft. Even the demi god himself Stephen King goes back and edits his work. All mere mortals must write the Second Draft.
Yet if you read enough books on the craft of writing and listen to many authors you might be forgiven for thinking that outlining was ONE and ONLY true road to book salvation.
But what if you can't get it to work for you?
Then we have something in common.  If, like me, you've been feeling guilty because you can't get outlining to work for you, if one size fits all doesn't fit, then this post is for you. I'ma liberate your guilt :)

Not One Size Fits All
Outlining is marvelous. Truly. I see the virtues. I am a convert. Except... it makes the cogs in my head freeze. Suddenly the character that I could hear so clearly says something like, "Oh well, if your going to spend three weeks outlining then, yawn, I'm gone!" And just like that I have no character and no ideas. Zip. Nothing. Nada.

Write Like You
It would appear that I need a combination of writing blindly and then plotting what I have written so I can see where the story is going. To keep the characters in my head cooperating with me I also need to tell them that no one else will ever read them. (yeah, lying to characters in your head is quite okay).
I also need to sneak up on my writing. When I sit at the computer those people in my head get nervous saying, "Oh crap, she's going to write about us! What if we don't do anything interesting today?"
So I sit at my computer for ten minutes ignoring my book and doing inane things like checking emails and the all important update of my facebook status in case the queen wants to know. (What? She might!)
Eventually the characters in my head relax and are actually thinking about doing some very intriguing things. If I'm quick I can get the word document opened before anyone (including me) panics.

What am I saying? I'm saying, write like you.
Need to drink a Coke and then pretend you are writing a novel to your mother in letter form?
Do it.
Need to speak babble into a tape recorder until the story starts to grow and you can later transcribe it as a rough draft?
Do it.
Need to complete a sketchy outline and then jump in at the end and write the story backwards?
Do it.
Need to write a full outline after you have written, and write only after you have played with the dog?
Do it.

You'll Get There Faster on Your Path.
There is more than one path to any destination. Everyone who walks without ceasing eventually gets there and when they do they are all holding a.... Rough Draft.
So it really doesn't matter how you arrived at it. Does it?

Outlines are wonderful things, but they are there to work for you. You are not there to work for an outline.

Oh, and writing is fun, right? :)

What about you? What works for you when it comes to generating writing or beginning a new book?


  1. I mostly write my poems of things that have actually happened or happening, so don't have much references to look up.

    Loved your post so down to earth and understandable.


  2. I agree. If someone works best as a pantser then they have to work the way they work. I'm an outliner - the more the better! I can't just sit down and write without a plan to save my life!

  3. LOL. I can just see you sitting at your computer, humming, looking over at the bookcase and quickly clicking on word before you or your characters cotton on to your motives. hehe.

    Well, you know I'm an outlining convert, but, and it's a big but, with a whole lot of adaptation for ME. These days, I outline the first half because generally, that's all I actually know. I write that, getting to know the characters as I go, then I send it off for my critters to read. Then, while I wait for their feedback, I start brainstorming the second half and planning where I want to go.

    I use outlining more as a guideline of where things SHOULD go (inciting incident, mini-climaxes, midway switch up, that sort of thing) than anything else. Often I don't plan what exactly will happen there but put something like "might be a good place for the chase scene I was planning" or something.

    More often than not, I do something completely separate to the plan anyway!

    I think the important thing is exactly what you've said, Tab. Write like YOU, the way it works for YOU. Everyone's different. There's no perfect path. The only sure way to get it wrong is to not do it at all, after all.

  4. Wow I needed this perspective, never been good at the outlining thing, but then I realize I miss stuff I wanted to put in. Ugh, the perils of over-thinking things.

    Alex from Breakfast Every Hour was here.

  5. It's taken me a few years to come to a place in my writing where I know and accept that it is ok the way I organize my writing. I've had to learn to outline some, chart out my GMC beforehand but the rest goes free and it's ok--it's the way I do it:)

  6. LoL--write backwards. I'd like to talk to someone who actually does that! That would drive me insane. I couldn't do it. I can't even bounce around from scene to scene. For me, I have to start at the beginning and just GO. No outlining, very little actual plotting. The story drives me.

    No wonder I'm un-agented. LoL. Great post!


  7. Four out of the five books I've written so far came totally the SOTP way. They have all gone through massive revisions and STILL NEED MASSIVE MORE revisions.

    One I wrote after creating a single-page synopsis of it first, yeah, I know, not much planning there either. It's in it's zillionth revision as well. So, yes, I'm totally with you, Tabitha. Write whatever way you find works (ie, getting semi-relevant words on the page) and resign yourself to take as many rounds of edits as you need.

  8. I like finding outher poets as well :) Thank you for following my blog :)

  9. I used to be a pantster and it took me over a year to write my first book. Then I outlined in my pants for the second book, and that took about 6 months. For this latest book, I outlined the whole thing, right down to the very end, and I found, it took 3 months to write, it, two weeks to edit/revise and now it's out to query, and I got my first request on it today.

    So, I am definitely an outline convert. But before that, I write a scene of dialogue between the hero and heroine just to make sure they'll get along.

  10. I am somewhere in the middle of pantster and outliner. I write up anywhere from a sentence to a page for each chapter and leave it go at that. As Ideas come to me while I'm writing I make notes. One thing for sure, I write in chronological order. Beginning to end. Jumping around would drive me crazy and get me totally lost.

  11. This is so wise, Tab, because we are all so different and what works for one writer might not work for another. I learned that the hard way, trying to follow all the advice. Now, I am practicing allowing the writing to emerge, to bubble up out of me. It takes a willingness to sit down, get quiet, do some deep breathing, and just "be." Then it just comes. I love what you said about tricking yourself and the characters in your head. I might try that.

  12. I have always hated outlining. At some point though, I realize I have to organize what I have so far, and that's where I get bogged down.

  13. What works for me changes. Sometimes I try to plot, see where the story is going. Sometimes I just sit down and write. Usually, when I do the latter, I have to go back and do a brief synopsis of each chapter so I can see the holes and the threads I completely dropped.

  14. Lately my sleep has been invaded by novel ideas. I write it down in scribbles on a pad next to my bed.

    What works for me is not to lose those thoughts...some novels have been born that way.
    ~ Wendy

  15. Awesome blog, I think I'm gonna stick around and learn. Thank you.

  16. Characters usually live in my head for a while. I think about the plot and conflict, but I don't really preplan things. Then I just jump in and start writing. Of course, I tend to need quite a few edits too. *grin*

  17. This is great advice, thanks for reminding people that they really can be individuals.

    I loved the different ways of writing you offered, too :)

  18. I have written soooo many outlines and they almost never work for me. Essentially, all I need is the rough idea and then it's all about perseverence and imagination.

    GREAT post!

  19. It has to be turning off the negative voices, both real and imagine. Write on!

  20. Closing my eyes and picturing the scene. I have to live it before I can write about it. Every last bit.

  21. Inspiring tips! Just what I needed to read. I've tried most everything. What works best for me is an outline. That doesn't mean I stick with it, but it's a guide. Happy writing!!!

  22. Thanks for the reminder. :) If I outline, I do it AFTER the first draft is done. That way the characters are present and their voices come through, but the outline helps me sort out the plot line. I usually end up doing a bit of rearranging in the second draft.

  23. Oh thank you, thank you, thank you! I have been so bothered about this outline stuff. It really freaked me out.

  24. I enjoy your photos enormously:)
    And thank you for the interesting post.

  25. TB thank you for sharing on this. Blessings.