What if you tried outlining your novel and it doesn’t work? What if it freezes you so you can’t write? Are you defective as a fiction writer?
Molly posted this question on my “Ask A Question For My Blog” page:
I’ve been writing for a little bit now, but I hardly ever finish what I begin. When I come to a block in my writing I either put it aside or try to outline what happens next. Thinking that if I know what happens next, the story will flow better. But in eality, it’s the opposite. It’s like as soon as I know what’s going to happen I can’t write it. I physically can not write. The entire plot crumbles and I’m left with half finished stories. Once I know what happens I can never return to those days when I simply wrote what came to me. When my characters told me the story as I went. It’s like knowing how the story unfolds eliminates all desire to actually write it, and nothing I do can ever bring me back to where I previously was. No matter how long I wait, how hard I try to forget the outline, I just can not get the story to flow again. The few times I have tried to force the writing, it sucked.
I’ve known about this for a little while now, and I do try to stay away from outlining, but sometimes I forget and do it anyway. And then I end up where I am now. Unable to move forward with my novel and so frustrated that I contemplate throwing everything I have. Any suggestions for how to fix my problem, or how to prevent it?
Randy sez: You don’t have a problem, Molly. You can write fine by the seat of your pants. What’s going wrong for you is that you’re trying to use a solution you don’t need for a problem you don’t have.
That solution is preplanning your fiction. It’s designed to help writers write when they get frozen by not knowing what comes next.
For many writers, that is a GREAT solution. I hear all the time from writers who came across my Snowflake method of designing a novel and it liberated them, because their brain just isn’t wired to write by the seat of the pants, and they had simply assumed that all writers write that way. (Some do, including Stephen King, Jerry Jenkins, and many, many, many others.)
But that solution is not for you, Molly. I’ve been in this business too long to believe that we’re all wired alike. We aren’t. Write the way you were made to write.
Write by the seat of the pants. Don’t plan. Just write. That’s your natural style. That’s your creative paradigm. The worst thing you can do is to try to write using a creative paradigm that doesn’t fit you.
Having said that, let me add that you’re still not off the hook on building a story with great story structure. My Snowflake method is designed to help you find a strong story structure and well-formed characters before you write your first word. If you’re a seat-of-the-pants writer, you need to do that hard work AFTER you write your first draft, not before.
If you need help in figuring out all that, let me selfishly recommend my book WRITING FICTION FOR DUMMIES, which explains all about story structure, characters, and a whole lot more. I’ll unselfishly recommend STORY ENGINEERING by my friend Larry Brooks, which will do exactly the same thing. Also, PLOT & STRUCTURE, by my friend James Scott Bell. Also . . .
You get the picture. There are a pile of books out there that explain what your fiction needs to be like in its final draft in order to get published. Be aware that when you write by the seat of your pants, your first draft is almost certain to not be in publishable form yet. You’ll have to work hard to clean it up. That’s no problem. Plenty of writers work through 5 or 10 or 20 drafts to edit a horrible first draft into shape.
It’s that simple. Not everybody should outline or Snowflake. Some people are just destined to write seat-of-the-pants. Absolutely nothing wrong with that.
Good luck, Molly, and shoot me an e-mail when you get your novel finished, so I’ll know you got it done and I’ll know that I was right.
If you’ve got a question you’d like me to answer in public on this blog, hop on over to my “Ask A Question For My Blog” page and submit your question. I’ll answer them in the order they come in.