The Outline

Here’s a confession: I don’t enjoy outlining. I’m not one of those people who sits down and HAS to know what happens BEFORE writing the story. Oh no, I make things up on the fly. While writing my latest manuscript, I kept telling Amy, “Yeah, I’ll figure out the ending when I get there!” Which I eventually did, although it took me a couple of tries to get it right (not just the ending, I mean. The whole manuscript!). This is perfectly normal, and I highly doubt an outline would have helped me get the story to the place where I wanted it to be.

One time I spent a summer outlining a story I knew I was going to write for National Novel Writing Month. I was commuting to college and spent my time on the train writing out every single thing. By the time November rolled around and I sat down to write the actual story, I was bored out of my mind. I had basically written the thing already, now I was just adding in the details. I already knew the story, and had no desire to, in effect, write it again. Lesson learned, I never outlined like that again.

002 (Small)

When I’m writing, I keep notes in whatever notebook is closest to me at the moment. I do take notes on the computer as well, but there’s just something more satisfying about grabbing a notebook and curling up in bed to scribble down names, descriptions, and plot points. It feels more real to me. And it’s convenient. Maybe I’m trying to fall asleep, and I suddenly think up an important plot point. It’s much easier for me to grab my notebook than my computer. Again, this is just to take notes, or maybe quickly write out a scene or dialogue I just know I’ll forget the next morning when I wake up.

For potential sequels, however, I do try to outline the plot because I know I’m not going to go back to the story, the universe, the characters, for months, maybe years, and I don’t want to forget what I had planned. But again, it’s all very basic, because I WANT to give myself the chance to fill in the plotholes as I’m writing. I’m not sure how other people outline, but mine look a bit like this:

A and B go to the movies

  • A suddenly screams and says she saw a ghost(?)
  • B tells her she’s crazy, there’s no such thing as ghosts
  • A gets mad and storms out(?) or maybe she stays, and gets mad at B later(?)

That’s exactly how I do it. Characters are reduced to the first letter of their first name, and question marks for anything I’m not sure about. The question marks don’t bother me, because I know once I’m writing the story, I’ll figure it out. I just list the basics, no little details. And, of course, the outlines are NOT permanent. They’re just there as a guide, a reminder of what I want to happen. But the possibility of me changing things halfway through the story is more than likely.

I have outlined while in the middle of writing a story. With one manuscript, the beginning was far too long and plodding, so I ended up starting over again, deleting a huge chunk of it as I revised. To help keep myself focused, I outlined the middle and end, and followed those notes (again, my summaries for chapters were ONE sentence each. No excessive detail!) as I wrote. I’ve noticed, also, that when I’m creeping towards the end, I will outline what I want to happen as a way of encouraging myself, to show that the end is in sight and I just need to keep at it a little bit longer. I guess I don’t have a set method when it comes to outlining, besides knowing that I cannot plot out the entire thing in extreme detail and still be interested in actually writing it.

Do you outline? If so, is your method similar to mine, or do you have you own way of doing it?


Back It Up!

Here’s a silly question, but for those of you who write (or draw, paint etc on your computer), do you back your documents up consistently? I ask because in this day and age, when you can get a USB drive in just about every shape/color/animal possible, I still see people bemoaning the loss of their work when their computer dies. I can’t help but wonder, why aren’t you backing your stuff up?

I’ve always made sure I’ve had copies of my stuff somewhere, either on a CD or an external hard drive, but once I started writing things that I hoped to publish someday, and my laptop got older and slower, I invested in a simple 2GB USB drive. It sits on a shelf on my desk, directly over my laptop, and when I finish with a session of writing and/or editing, I immediately back up my stuff. Every single time. Multiple times a day, if I need to. In addition to that, every few months I’ll email myself copies of all of my manuscripts (completed drafts and works in progress). This is especially necessary during natural disasters (hey, we’ve had two hurricanes in two years over here!). Even if I were to lose my laptop AND USB drive, at least I would still have the manuscripts!

Do yourself a favor and back your work up as often as possible! You never know when your computer will turn on you, wiping away a day, week, or even MONTHS of hard work.


The Perfectionist Problem.

Being a bit of a perfectionist, it’s impossible for me to send my beta an incomplete manuscript. Oh no, I need to have the whole thing written, edited, revised, and edited again before I can send it to her. And even then, if it’s not quite where I want it to be, I get all nervous, knowing she’s reading something that’s not, well, perfect.

Which is so ridiculous.

Take my current manuscript. Novel Number Nine. I wrote the first draft and then went back and proceeded to rewrite a huge chunk of it. There are still a few parts that I’m not completely happy with, but after writing some chapters two, three times, I knew I needed a fresh pair of eyes to look at it. She’s currently reading through it for the first time, letting me know which parts don’t work. Those parts are usually the ones I had problems with, and after emailing one another back and forth, I’m able to finally turn the scenes into what I want them to be. The whole process is actually a lot of fun, too!

I don’t think I’ll ever be able to write a chapter and pass it on to her just like that, without having the rest of the story written. Once a perfectionist, always a perfectionist. But at least I’m now able to pass along a flawed story without feeling (too) uneasy about it!


The Beginning.

I started a new work today! As in a brand new story, set in a brand new world, with a brand new set of characters. It’s an idea I’ve been playing with for the past couple of weeks; I had an idea and I’ve been expanding on it whenever I can. Today I actually sat down with my trusty notebook, jotting down some notes. I’m not the type of person that has to outline every single little detail before I can write, but I like to write down the general direction I want the story to go. Of course, none of this is set in stone, and it’s fun to go back and look at my notes when I’ve finished the first draft to see the differences. I don’t even know how I want this story to end, but I’ll figure that out while I’m writing. That’s how my brain works!

The only reason why I didn’t start writing the moment I came up with the idea was because I didn’t have any names picked out. And as you know from this post, I can’t write unless my characters have names. I was hesitant about starting a brand new story (as when I write, the story consumes me like a black hole, taking over my life until I’ve finished it. Also, I forget how to speak properly. And I have crazy, bizarre dreams. I’m not exactly sane during the process!), so I refused to even think about names. But the story was calling to me today, so I spent some time browsing through sites and playing around with letters. Once I got my names (for the main characters only. Apologizes to the secondary characters, but I spend very little time on their names!), I was ready to start.

Like usual, I found it hard to tear myself away from the computer, and I wrote almost 2000 words. Already the story is surprising me, with the main character acting not quite as I intended her to. But that’s not a bad thing! And also like usual, even when I’m not sitting down and writing, I’m working on future scenes–see why I don’t have to worry about not having an ending just yet? It’ll come to me when my brain is ready. Usually this is when I’m trying to fall asleep at night (hmm, maybe that’s why I have strange dreams?).

I’m going to chart my progress this time around, recording how many words I write per day. It might only be interesting to me, but I can share it if anyone would like to see. Maybe on a weekly basis? While I have no deadline for this, I want to continue my tradition of writing everyday (unless I have a headache, in which I then go to bed extra early and try to write even more the next day!). Wish me luck! Anyone else working on a project right now? How’s that going?


What’s In A Name?

I don’t follow a strict set of rules when I name my characters, except that I absolutely must have their name decided before I write them. And once it’s decided, it can’t be changed. It’s weird, but after I’ve picked out the perfect name, something clicks in my brain, and there’s no going back. It’s their name, I can’t change it! (Although there was one time where I was forced to change a character’s name because it was too similar to another character’s name and I still to this day refer to her by her original name… what a disaster!)

Usually, I create the character first, deciding on their physical traits (hair and eye color, etc) before settling on a name. If I’m writing a fantasy story, it’s a little easier to pick a name as I can usually make it up. For contemporary novels, like THE SIGHT SEER, I searched baby name webpages for both common and uncommon names. There was one character in THE SIGHT SEER that gave me trouble, though. I scoured webpages, asked my family for suggestions, but his name just wasn’t coming to me! Each day of writing took me closer and closer to his first appearance, and I began to panic when finally, I figured out what I wanted to call him. I find the whole thing ironic because this character is a total pain in the butt; it figures he would make me crazy over something like this! A few months later, I was stuck yet again on a character that would appear in the proposed sequel. I had two names in mind, but couldn’t make a choice. One night, I had a dream about him and another character; the second character (whose name I already knew) called the first character by one of the names I had picked out. I woke up and thought, “Ah, so that’s his name!” I owe that second character a big thank you for making that difficult decision for me!

Sometimes, if I’m lucky, I’ll stumble across an amazing name and develop a character around it. It usually doesn’t work like this, but it’s great when it does. I also like to keep a notebook handy and write down a name that catches my eye so that in the future, when I’m stuck on a name, I can consult my list.  This is helpful for naming secondary characters–I’ll admit it, I spend a lot more time naming main characters than I do on the ones who only get a few lines here or there. That’s why my main characters will have amazing (well, I think they’re amazing!) names while the secondary characters end up with common names. I’m not going to waste a great name on just anyone!

For all the writers out there, how do you go about naming your characters?


Write at your own pace.

My first four completed novels were written during National Novel Writing Month. For those of you who have never heard of Nano, the goal is to write 50,000 words during the month of November. It was fun and taught me how to write something from start to end, but by the fourth year, I was completely burned out and declared, “Never again!”

The next two novels’ (the epic, overly long fantasy and its sequel) first drafts took me about a half a year for each. I wrote when I could, sometimes stopping for a long period of time, but eventually I finished them. Of course, when I realized they were way too long, I had some serious editing to do, which I was in the middle of when I got the idea for The Sight Seer.

I was at work, daydreaming as usual, when the idea came to me. By the time my shift was over, I knew my three main characters, knew the major plot points. I got home and wrote, stopped for dinner, and wrote some more. The story consumed me, and I wrote every chance I could, only stopping for pesky things like headaches or, you know, Hurricane Irene threatening to wash my house away (it’s really hard to concentrate when you’re wondering if you have to evacuate or not!). I jotted down the day I started my new project, just to give myself an idea of how long it would take me to write this, and imagine my surprise when I wrote “The End” on Day Forty-Two.

I was so against forcing myself to write 50,000 words in 30 days, saying it killed my creativity and took away the fun of writing, and meanwhile, I had written 73,000 words in forty-two days. With Nano, you have to write 1666 words a day to reach 50,000 by the last day. With The Sight Seer, I was averaging 1738 words a day! Of course, some days I wrote 500 words and other days I wrote 4000 words, but do you see what I’m saying? I was adamant I would never do Nano again, and meanwhile, I did it anyway, without even realizing it!

Out of all the novels I’ve written, The Sight Seer was the one that possessed me. So, in a way, I guess I can understand why I wrote that much in such a short amount of time. The story was begging to be written, and as fast as possible. I don’t know if I’ll ever be able to write this quickly again (my current work in progress, written while querying, took me seventy-five days and it’s 20,000 words SHORTER than The Sight Seer!), so it’s definitely an experience to remember!

With each attempt so vastly different from the other, I’ve learned that I can’t compare my writing experiences. Some novels may take half a year, some may take a few short weeks. As long as it’s quality writing that I’m confident enough to share with others, then what does it matter? Find a pace that works for you, and run with it!


Write Everyday!

So you want to write a novel. That’s great! But guess what? You actually have to sit down and write it! Gasp, I know! The thing doesn’t write itself; how unfair is that? If only we could plug our brains up to the computer–no wait, maybe that’s not such a great idea. Who knows what’s going on in that head of yours.

Writing is hard, I get it. Finding time to sit down and compose a novel takes both effort and sacrifice. Writing a page today and another one three months from now will not help the creative juices flow. The greatest bit of advice I ever read was you must write everyday. No excuses. Listen, I know, I work forty hours a week, and there are days when I come home and all I want to do is veg out in front of the computer looking at pointless junk. But you have to be strict with yourself. For me, I’ll get the day’s writing out of the way, and then reward myself with looking at pointless junk. However, I’m lucky enough that once I get into a story, I’d rather be writing than anything else. But sure, even when I’m absolutely obsessed with my current project and want to spend every waking moment writing, there will still be days where I can’t get into the flow. But that’s okay! Even if I only write five hundred words, it’s still something! The story and characters are still fresh in my mind, which is exactly what I want. And who knows; maybe the next day I’ll write two thousand words.

So that’s my advice to you today. When writing a novel, write every single day, even if it’s only a few words. It doesn’t have to be a masterpiece, and you might throw it out during the edits, but that doesn’t matter. Keeping the story alive, day after day, will help you reach your goal of writing (and completing!) a novel.