How’s everyone doing today? That’s good (and conversely: I hope it gets better).
Today I want to talk to you about preparation. This goes beyond making sure you have the power cord for the laptop and a refill for a Venti-Grand Pumpkin Seasoned Frappa-Latte hold the Whip. What I want to talk about is preparation for your story.
As with the actual writing process there are as many different ways to prepare for writing your story as there are people who write. We’re going to look at two of the biggest in this post and touch on some others. Research is a part of the preparation, but I have enough to say about just that that it will get its own post.
The first way of preparing is the outline. If you’re unsure how to outline something try this: http://web.psych.washington.edu/writingcenter/writingguides/pdf/outline.pdf . This is a PDF from the University of Washington, it’s straight and to the point. A good way to think of an outline is as a skeleton for your story. What you’re doing with an outline is putting down the bare bones of the story. You then use the outline as a road map, reminding you where the story was going when you first conceived of it. Many writers hang their hats on the obvious and genuine successful utility of an outline. It is a tried and true method of writing preparation. The upside of using an outline is that it is clear and easy to read, everything is right there for you in an order anyone can follow at a glance. The downside I’ve seen with the outline is that newer writers see the outline as an absolute. They believe that because it’s on the outline it has to be in the story, that if they have something as the third scene on the outline it has to be the third scene in the novel. The best advice is to remember that an outline is just prep; if by the time you have some/most of the story down and something you have in the outline doesn’t fit right (or at all) anymore don’t try to force it into your story just because it’s in the outline. If a scene works better later in the story than where you have it in the outline move it. The outline is a static thing, but a story is alive and grows listen to it as much as possible.
The second way of preparing is note taking. Basically this means as ideas about the story come to you you write them down in a notebook. Notes can be as detailed or as sparse as you want, as long as there is enough information down to remind you of what you wanted to say originally. Many writers jot down notes on anything they have at hand (one author-damned if I can remember who now-said he once wrote notes to one of his books in the margins of another novel), but most carry a small notebook with them for when inspiration strikes. I want to state now that this is the method I use. It just works for me because of the way my mind works. My notes will include a character list, with a few sentences about personality/role in the story/some history, but mostly there will be notes on scenes and lines that I thought were cool when I heard them/they came to me. Sometimes the notes for the scenes are a few lines (this happens, then character A does this, and character B is saved/abhorred/dead), sometimes I write the whole scene down because I like what comes to me originally and want to get it all down. The upside of this approach to prep is that it’s much more free form than an outline. It doesn’t come with the same stigma of rigidness as an outline. The downside is this approach can be far less organized than the outline; which means you may have to backtrack during the writing to put in a scene you missed because it’s buried in a page of notes. This happened to me once, I was three-fourths of the way through a story, looking for a note about a line I liked, and found a scene that was supposed to go in the middle of the story. As it turns out after reading the note on the scene I decided not to include it because it didn’t really fit the story at that point. So be warned that you can miss notes, and if you’re the type of person who is disorganized outlining might be a better way to go for you.
At this point I want to bring up that these two types of preparation are not mutually exclusive. There are plenty of writers out there who take notes and before they sit down to actually start writing organize their notes by putting them into an outline. There are writers out there who do outlines and write notes about scenes and characters on it as they go and the information fills in during the writing process.
And again these are not the only ways to prepare for writing. I’ve heard some writers say they just sit down and pound out pages when they get an idea and then go back and take out things and rearrange scenes when they’re done. This can be good for a short story, but I’ve found it hard to pound out a novel (eventually I’ll forget something, which is more annoying to me than taking the time to write down some notes).
I do have a point to make that goes beyond mentioning how people prepare for writing. The point I want to make with this post is: Preparing to write is not writing.
I want to share something with you. I’m acquainted with someone who calls themselves a part time writer. He really likes epic fantasy and so wants to write epic fantasy. A couple years ago, being polite and semi-interested, I asked him how his writing was. He replied that he had some notes for a new story he was excited about. I asked him what it was about, he mumbled a few sentences, and we went on our ways. A couple weeks later I saw him and again asked how the writing was. He replied that he’d finally organized his notes into an outline. That’s cool I said, and again ways were went. Couple weeks later, how’s the writing? He’d found a map generator online and he’d finally settled on a map for his world. Okay. Ways. This time it was a month before I saw him again. How’s the writing? He’s been working on detailed backstories for his characters so he knows how they’d react in any given situation. I stopped asking after that.
I’m not telling anyone specifically how they should write (I like to think of these posts as suggestions to help get people started). However at some point preparing to write your story becomes putting off writing your story. I know for me writing is my addiction. On days I write I’m happy and bouncy, but the longer I go without writing the more irritable I get. So the fact that this person was doing everything they could except writing their story seemed like they were afraid to write it.
So today’s piece of writing addiction advice: Don’t be afraid to write your story. You’re the only one who can.