The good nuns of St. John the Baptist Academy and Bishop Ludden High School taught me that before you write a single word on the page you must construct an outline. Indeed this advice has served me well through decades of higher education and especially during my MBA studies. Outlines are a very effective way to organize your thoughts and keep you on track as you move from start to finish through a writing project.

So, like a good boy, I started my novel writing project with a detailed and quite lovely outline. It had all the stuff a good novel should have. Great characters, settings, a couple major story arcs, rising action, falling action, yada, yada, yada. I spent hours and hours refining it, tweaking it, polishing it until I was sure it was right. Then, at long last, the real writing began.

By the end of my first chapter I had already strayed from the outline. Should I go back and adjust the outline to match what I had written? Yeah, better do that…don’t want it to get out of sync. Then chapter two was born and it had stuff in it that wasn’t even in the outline. Crap! I better spend a few hours making some major changes to the outline. This is getting hard!

By the end of chapter three my story bore only a faint resemblance to the outlined story. Now what do I do? Scrap the outline altogether? That went against every fiber of my Catholic school programmed being! Surely one could not write without an outline — that literary safety net ready to catch me when I trip on the wire of an out-of-sequence plot element.

But that’s what I did. I actually erased the outline document from Scrivener (the professional writing software I use). Poof. Gone. Hasta la vista outline.

The result has been a complete and utter sense of freedom in the resulting chapters. I even went back and changed significant parts of the first two chapters, just because I could. Now everything is flowing naturally, almost effortlessly. This feels like a truly creative process without the confines of the bulleted list.

Fiction writing, especially science fiction and fantasy, she be born from an environment of freedom where there are no rules, other than good grammar and meticulous editing.

Would I recommend this approach for every writer? No. Some people need the structure an outline provides, but for me, it seems to work. I hope the nuns can forgive me.

Advertisements