writing is such a chaotic sport

Posted on Posted in journal, writing life

Justine Musk (who always has amazingly clever things to say on the topic of wordsmithery) talks about outlining, and why outlines change:

This is what took me way too long (and three published novels) to figure out about plot:

Plot is a process.

…the outline informs the novel but the growing novel also informs the outline.

…What this process requires, however, is a tolerance for ambiguity. For what I described in an earlier blog post as “the muck and murk of writing”: the sense that you’re slogging through a dark swamp with no exit in sight.

We like to have a plan in place, we like to move through an orderly and predictable checklist, but creativity doesn’t sequence so easily. The process works off itself. You show up, you see what you already have, you descend into the muck and the murk, and let the process take you further along.

And she's just absolutely NAILED why outlines have never worked for me. I've been treating it as an either/or approach: writing with an inviolate plan, or without one.

Now, I know writers who outline, and they've always told me they never stick slavishly to said outline, that it evolves even as the story does — which I admit to never quite grasping, probably because my brain runs to extremes.

I'm thoroughly accustomed to a "tolerance for ambiguity" when writing without an outline: wading into a story knowing nothing more than a character's name, sometimes not even that, doesn't distress me in the least. I need to interact with the story and the characters in order for it to evolve, and progress, and grow into a narrative.

I know how to do that when there's no outline in place — but whenever I have attempted an outline, I've then expected it to be my checklist. I've expected it to do away with all that muck and murk of the process. How foolish was I?1

One day I will learn that just because my head and thought patterns lend themselves to BLACK! or WHITE!, no grey or middle paths allowed, that not everything in the world — actually nothing in the world — follows suit.

  1. Doubtless there are writers whose outlines do work that way. I presume those writers have tested and discarded ideas and dug deeply during the outlining process itself, and done an awful lot of thinking and evolving of the narrative prior to writing. I think I can safely say I will never be one of those writers. []