The Outlining Conundrum

With the final revision for Shadows in the Smoke (which has yet to be crowned with its truly-really-official title) off to my lovely editor, I'm back to the choice between fluffing off watching silly cat videos on YouTube or outlining my next book.

You can guess which way I'm leaning.

I learned a long time ago that diving into a new book without a thorough and complete outline is a recipe for disaster. I spent the first ten or so years of my writing life rejiggering the first five chapters of a dozen or so books. By the time I reached that point in my shiny new narrative, things would have changed so drastically from where I thought I was headed at the start that I simply had to go back and set things straight at the beginning.

Over.
And over.
And over again.

Shadows in the Smoke taught me I needed a better methodology. Admittedly, I didn't outline the story before writing a first draft - or at least, not in any way that you'd recognize. That's probably why it took me nearly three years to finish the damned thing.

To get to the heart of things: I need an outline. It's the only way to keep myself on track and save all the wasted time of those false-start drafts. The problem is that I absolutely despise outlining.

Give me a pile of revisions, and I will dive into them like a peanut butter cup sundae. Give me a big, fat, well-crafted outline, and I'll churn out chapter drafts with the glee of a five year old watching Spongebob. Give me a big blank page and tell me to fill it with the plot of my next novel, and I run shrieking to a small, dark place. Or silly cat videos.

I imagine many people who have never written books would think outlining should be the fun part. There's no worrying about grammar and structure, no finicky sentences to struggle with. It's just a pure, vivid wash of ideas, a playground for the imagination. I'm sure there are many authors who feel that way. I am not one of them.

I'm pretty sure I know the root of this problem. I have a hard time getting myself out of the straightjacket of everything I know a book should be.

Outlining is Blink territory. It's a realm where conscious and deliberate method destroy your soul. Outlining only works when you let go of every preconceived notion about how a story is going to work, and where this particular tale is supposed to go. It's magic mushroom fairy castle territory, and since I do not subscribe to the William S. Burroughs school of composition, I'm without the most obvious means of overcoming my own rationality.

My instruments for this latest attempt will be a plethora of post-it notes, Kate Bush's entire discography, and a fiercely bolstered sense of play.

Wish me luck.

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