Monday, September 13, 2010

Trying Something New

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA         My writing schedule is nothing if not chaotic. With two children that are still on the young side, my day changes course in a split second sometimes.

To get any kind of writing done, I’ve trained myself to write at a moment’s notice. Got ten minutes? I’m writing. Because who knows when the next ten minute slot of time is going to show up?

Still, despite this crazy approach, I’m also a creature of habit. I don’t like writing at night—give me an early morning or afternoon anytime. I won’t edit as I go along. And I don’t outline.

But the “I don’t outline” part of my credo changed this summer when I wrote a proposal for a new series and was asked to give a full synopsis for the book.

A full synopsis? For something I hadn’t written yet? That sure sounded a lot like an outline to me.

I have to admit, y’all, that long synopsis was the dickens to write. Fifteen pages of pure torture. I just don’t ordinarily think that way. I do these little mini-outlines for each day’s work so that I know what my writing plan for the day is. A day ahead is really as far as I go.

Funny thing, though—when I started writing the chapters for the proposal, the writing just flew. I’m a pretty fast writer anyway, but nothing compared to the speed with which the outlined chapters got written.

At least I know I can do a synopsis/outline now. And that there are some benefits to writing one. I’m not totally sold on outlining though… I’m freestyling my current WIP.

But if I run into a problem with that WIP? I think I’ll just outline from that point on. It’s definitely good for working out the snarls in a manuscript.

How about you? Have you ever switched from not outlining to outlining? Or made any other major shakeup to your writing routine? How did it go?

Elizabeth Spann Craig/Riley Adams
Mystery Writing is Murder
Mystery Lovers' Kitchen

18 comments:

paullamb said...

I think my experience is a lot like yours. I liken my approach to story writing much like a train trip. I know where I'll get aboard, and I know where I'll get off. And I know about a number of stops along the way. But most of the trip will be of sights and experiences and conversations and people and musing that I could never have imagined before.

I don't outline. At most I will write a synopsis of the chapter (or short story) that I'm going to work on next. And then I'll work from that (and watch the work evolve from that).

Unlike your experience, however, I cannot write in ten-minute bursts. I generally need at least a half hour of warm up time where I do some kind of pre-writing (maybe unrelated to the work at hand) and then at least two hours of uninterrupted time in order to get anything done. Maybe that's why I didn't really get any competent creative writing done until the kids were grown and gone. And maybe that's why I find I write best in the wee hours of the morning. I sometimes rise as early as 3:00 a.m. to sit in the quiet house and write. Bliss!

Margot Kinberg said...

Elizabeth - I agree that making a major change in one's writing style really can be challenging. I always used to outline, mostly because my background is academic writing. I outlined for my first two fiction novels, also. But for my WIP, I'm outlining less. So far, it's going well, and in a way, I'm glad I didn't outline and force myself to stick with. I had to make some major, story-changing revisions to the work. If I'd made an outline and stuck to it, the WIP would not be good at all. It really needed more work than an "outline tweak."

Sue Ann Jaffarian said...

I never outline beyond jotting down a few major bullet points, then it's connect the dots. I've also never had to do a synopsis beyond one page, so I'm in awe of your 15 pages! I know folks who do detailed outlines and that works for them and many are like me with none. The trick is finding what is comfortable for your style and story. There are times when I've wished I've had an outline to consult, but they have been few and far between.

Good luck with the new series proposal!

Ike said...

I am definitely in the outlining camp. Sitting down at the computer with nothing but a vague idea is waaay too frightening.

The common legend is that Alfred Hitchcock had every shot, every frame planned in his head and stroyboarded months prior to filming. The act of filming was mostly a mechanical process to realize the fim he'd already made in his head. While I don't take matters to this extreme, I usually have a very detailed outline before starting any project. Not to say I won't swerve off course if a good idea arises, but I will then take a step back and see the overall effect on my outlined plot and possibly rewrite the outline. This is probably why it seems to take me so long to accomplish anything.

If you ask my wife, I really don't like to begin a trip with out a very good set of directions which give me lots of close-together mileposts. I guess I approach writing in the same fashion. Being lost in the woods looking for moss on the north-side of trees has never been my thing.

G.M. Malliet said...

I write in spurts, too. It's the only way I can fool myself into taking on the huge task of a full-length novel.

Clarissa Draper said...

Yeah, now I outline everything. I like to have a brief idea of where things are going. Especially because i have more than one plot at a time and i like to tie things together at the end.

CD

Hart Johnson said...

My current WiP was a lot more carefully planned than anything I've written prior--I storyboarded it. The REASON was my shift in genres, and wanting to be sure my Cozy Mystery help all the elements it needed (suspense isn't quite as formulaic... or maybe it is and this is why none has sold *scratches head*). I know you're right though, that when planned ahead, the writing comes MUCH more smoothly!

My other big change is typing onto the laptop--I normally write long-hand, but have participated in two NaNos and those require at least a portion to be typed directly. I find my voice is different--more clinical.

Elizabeth Spann Craig/Riley Adams said...

Paul--It sounds like our view on outlining is a lot alike!

I think I could easily adapt to a 2-hour uninterrupted period of writing time. :) That really WOULD be bliss!

Margot--That's what I found when I decided to revise some of my sample chapters. I had to go back and change the outline and it seemed like a lot more work than my revisions usually are.

Sue Ann--Thanks! I think they probably wanted 8 pages, but you know...sometimes it's harder to write 8 (deciding what to leave in and what to take out) than it is just to outline for 15. :) But it took forever.

Ike--I've read that about Hitchcock and always admired him for it. It seems like a very organized and professional way to go about a project. I feel like sometimes I'm just as surprised at the end of the book as anybody! I'm not sure that's the best way to write a book...but it's how I've done it up until now.

Good analogy! I think that sometimes I do a lot of moss-studying when I'm trying to figure out where the story is going. That's where I can definitely see the benefit of an outline.

Gin--Ha! I think that must be part of my reasoning, too. If we just break the novel down into bits, it does seem a lot more manageable.

Clarissa--It really does help with managing subplots, doesn't it? I did think that was useful.

Hart--Yes! That's exactly the way my voice was when I started working on a laptop instead of writing longhand. It took a little while to get my voice back, but now I'm glad I made the switch to writing directly on Word.

Terry Odell said...

Oh, dear -- we're back at synchronicity, Elizabeth. Plotting (or the lack thereof) is my blog topic, triggered by hiring an architect to design a basement conversion.

I could never do that--and the thought of an entire synopsis almost makes me glad I don't sell on proposal. Almost.

Terry
Terry's Place
Romance with a Twist--of Mystery

Carol Grace said...

I do write an outline when necessary to make a sale, but then when I try to follow it I ask myself What were you thinking?? A quiet house and lots of time - that's the way to go. How else can I write those potential best-sellers and still have time for pie baking and eating research?

Alex J. Cavanaugh said...

I need an outline to get me started. I figure if I can't write an interesting outline, then the story writing itself is likely to suck.

Darrell James said...

I'm cringing at the thought of having to write a synopsis for a book I haven't written yet. I totally wing it when I'm writing, and the story sometimes changes drastically as I discover new ideas along the way. Not the most efficient way of getting to the end, perhaps. But it's the only way I know.

Alan Orloff said...

I have a feeling, Elizabeth, that whatever writing method you use, you'll use well.

It seems that, for each new manuscript, I try a slightly different method. One of these days, I'm going to get it right!

Keith Raffel said...

When Alan gets it right, I hope he'll let me know!

Tamika: said...

I do some rough chapter outlining in the beginning to get a feel for where I want the story to go, then I let the characters take over!

Elizabeth Spann Craig/Riley Adams said...

Terry--You and I were separated at birth with this synchronicity!

Yeah, I've never tried to sell on proposal either. We'll see how it goes!

Carol--Ha! And I write culinary mysteries so there's even MORE eating research!

Alex--I can see where outlining would really help with a sci fi, actually.

Darrell--I cringed too! But I do aim to please, so I managed to deliver it. I think I probably wrote in just as many changes, but instead of doing revisions, I just changed the synopsis. So, from that perspective, it went pretty well...it wasn't as time-consuming to make a change.

Alan--Thanks! Let's hope so. I'm still pretty ambivalent about the whole outlining thing.

Keith--Me too!

Tamika--Sounds like a winning plan to me!

Alice Loweecey said...

I switched to outlining the day I decided to write a mystery. I knew I'd need to plant clues and remember when I planted them--and what the clues were, or I'd be doomed. Once I started outlining, I was hooked. I outline all my books now--crazy huge 5-10K outlines with dialogue snippets and backstory and research bits. I love 'em--even when my characters take over the storyline and I have to rewrite parts of it. I learned with Randy Ingermanson's Snowflake Method. (Loved it for the basics.)

Jane Kennedy Sutton said...

I’ve written a synopsis, but only for a completed manuscript. I think I’d be lost having to write one for something that was still in the idea phase as I’m definitely a seat of my pants type of writer.