Tuesday, June 9, 2015

The Double-Edged Sword of Outlining

Recently, during the course of an apparent drought in inspiration with my existing works in progress, I turned to outlining to help me sort out the eleventy billion other ideas that were jockeying for my attention. I figured that it would be a good way to sort out my thoughts and free myself of the logjam that was keeping me from getting on with things, so that I could concentrate on current projects.

Outlining, I discovered, was a wonderfully efficient way to get down an idea in a state more fully formed than an elevator pitch or a logline, so that I could be sure of what plot points I wanted to hit when I eventually got around to writing it properly. I've used this technique in the middle of some of my WIPs, reminding myself of the path from Point A to Point B and all the stops along the way. As a result, I now have three complete story outlines waiting in my new outline folder, and another one on the way.

Good, right?


I discovered I have a new problem.

Once I finished the outlines, suddenly the idea was no longer in my head. It was like putting someone's phone number in your smartphone's directory and thereafter being completely unable to remember it.

It's frustrating.

It's illogical.

It's maddening.

It's... actually pretty dang useful. Once I had time to think about it, having the idea no longer in my head made room for the ideas I actually wanted to work on. Yes, I panicked at first, but I soon came to realize that this was a form of sorting out my thoughts. as long as I had something written down, I could come back to the outline to draft it properly. In the meantime, it wasn't in my way.

In other words, what seemed to be a brain fart turned out to be a handy effect.

I fully intend to go back and revisit these outlines, of course, incorporating them into my writing process. Whereas previously I started with an outline/rough draft hybrid, I think there is room for complete outline first, then rough draft based on this. This is hard for a historical pantser like myself to really grasp, but as long as it works, who am I to complain?

How many of you outline before the rough draft? How many prefer to just start typing and see where the story takes you?