In the last step I talked about the frame-by-frame outline. If you’ve been carefully adding to and creating character, setting, and world-building profiles as you go, you should have a good glimpse of the story you’re about to write. Now it’s time for step 8:
The real writing
If you are an organic writer, then perhaps you’ve been reading this workshop just to get some ideas. Perhaps you’ve discovered that there’s something to outlining after all, or, better yet, maybe you’ve realized that outlining doesn’t take away the organic side of writing at all, but actually makes it better.
If you’re an outliner and you’ve enjoyed the fact that every step so far has been easy to measure and predict, then you might be in for some disappointment here. (This is the part where organic writers might tell outliners, “I told you so.”)
Outlining is not a substitute for organic writing. When you’re ready to go, you still have to stare at a blank screen and find the words that belong to your story. The good thing, though, is that you have your frames and profiles, structure with which you can surround yourself as you go and help get you into your storytelling Zen. On the other hand, if you’re an organic writer, then you have extra tools as you go into your storyscape and let intuition take control.
Two kinds of drafting
Just as there are two kinds of writers (organic and outliner), there are also two ways writers like to write their drafts. Some (perhaps most) like to write a quick first draft with little thought about whether it works out, then go back and write draft 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, and so on until it does. Those writers usually learn a few things as they go and reduce the number of drafts as they get novels 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, and so on under their belts. Call these writers the drafters.
The other approach is to spend a long time writing one and only one draft, then, with a modest amount of polish, bring it to perfection. Writers who do this take advantage of the power of a word processor, going back and layering, reading previous passages to help roll it out into the later draft, jumping into various parts of their manuscript as the story evolves. Writing that one-and-only, continuously-changing draft might take years, or maybe a bit less than a year depending on how long the manuscript is. Call these writers the potters.
You’ll have to discover for yourself what method works best for you, and you may find you experiment with both before deciding one way or another. I was a drafter before I started outlining, at which point I became a potter. Whatever way you chose to draft, having your outline handy is an important step. While I have come to prefer being a potter, there is nothing wrong with moving fast and embracing multiple drafts. Since this workshop is based on my writing method, many references will be better suited for potters; if you are a drafter, though, it should not be hard to find how to apply some of the principles to your own method.
Tips for staying on track
1) Ground yourself.
You might write a little every day, or you might write for hours on end on Saturday, or maybe every second day for two hours at bedtime. However you write, it’s good practice to begin by looking over your notes to reacquaint you with higher-level story details before you dive in to furnish your story with more prose. You might remember key things about characters’ motives or plans for a frame that would otherwise be lost to the spontaneous direction your current frame is taking on.
It’s a good idea to keep your outline and profile notes accessible while you write as well. Maybe you’re writing about the market square for Rena’s village and, 6 months ago, when you first outlined it (let’s say this scene is in the midpoint of your story), you wrote something about the squabbling merchants, Hek and Hakkle. A little detail like that can be a beautiful touch on an otherwise bare cursory description of the market.
2) Embrace non-typing.
There’s nothing wrong with staring at the screen for a minute or two while you think and weigh what you are about to write. Get friendly with the backspace key; it might become your most numerously used character, and though it will not show up in your word count, your story will thank you for using it. Remember, just as you have the power to create prose, you also have the power to take away writing that doesn’t quite fit and replace it with better. Don’t worry about word count goals with this regard. 200 words that bring your story that much more to life are ten times the value of 2000 words that need lots of later revision.
(As stated above, this is my opinion and something based on my writing method, and while many a potter may agree, for a drafter this might not be so important until later drafts.)
3) Read backwards.
It’s also a good idea to go back and read old writing, even if it’s just a few paragraphs back from where you left off. I like to work this into the process of reviewing outline notes whenever I begin a writing session. Sometimes I read a paragraph, look at my outlines, read the paragraph before it, and so on. Sometimes, the content of one paragraph will remind me of an earlier story element and I will use the “find” feature of my word processor to comb through my manuscript and re-read what I’ve said about it so as to better use it in my scene. In fact, I have found this more often than not is what breaks me free of a session that begins with writer’s block.
4) Update, update, update!
Your story is going to evolve and change, even to the point that you have to rewrite your premise, and there’s nothing wrong with that. In fact, if it didn’t change at all then maybe you should go back and introduce a few surprises because your reader might be able to see every twist and turn coming from page one. As the changes come up, scribble them on your frames, make notes on your 9-part outline, modify your character, setting, and world profiles. Rewrite things if they get messy. And, inevitably, add character, world, and setting profiles as needed, but discipline yourself to write only as much as you need to, lest your writing session turn into a tangent.
(There are exceptions, of course. As an example, I pulled an all-nighter for one writing session when I realized I had to formally plan my magic system for my current novel, and this involved making several profiles for the various Dread Lord and Unborn societies. If I hadn’t done that, the ending of the story wouldn’t have worked out—one of the many surprises that story threw at me the outline didn’t warn about.)
Into that strange country
And so it begins! It is exciting to start a new story, especially after spending time fleshing it out. Think of all the work we’ve done up until now like a courtship. Now it’s time for married life to begin. It’s going to be exciting, fun, and full of cozy memories, but there will also be times you’ll be sleeping on the couch or will have to duck away from a flying pot. During those times you’ll be happy for the outlining time, hopefully enough to stop you from divorcing your story.
On you go. Time to start writing!
Next week I will discuss ways to use your outline and profiles to deepen your draft as your write.