Monday, January 30, 2017

BACK TO BASICS: Pre-Writing: Road Tripping vs Train-Tracking

WARNING: Long post is long.

Every author's writing process involves (or should involve... if not, how's that working out for ya?) these four basic steps: pre-writing, drafting, revising, and editing. There are a variety of different ways to work through each of those steps and a number of other steps that go with them.
And while there's plenty of advice out there concerning the matter and what you should do, it's SUCH a subjective process--no one can tell you HOW to do it. And believe me, everyone tries. And there's this horrible misconception that if it works for THEM it HAS to work for you too. Nuh uh. No, sir. Don't buy into that.

Writing is an intimate process and you should develop your own way of getting from idea to the end. Which isn't to say you couldn't use someone else's process/routine as an example. But don't go getting addicted to laudanum just cause Dickens did. And because I don't want to be one of those people that tell you how you're SUPPOSED to do it, I'll just tell you what works for me/how I roll. And I'll tell you now--I like to wing it.

For most, the next big step after THE BIG IDEA (and the research that entails) is to create an...ugh...outline. I am not a fan of detailed outlines. THERE! I SAID IT! OUTLINES SUCK!

For me, outlines are like getting on a train. The train can only go where the tracks lead. There is no diversion, there are no spontaneous side trips, and while the views might be beautiful, you have to stay INSIDE the train at all times.
Likewise, if you follow an outline when you write, I think you miss out on some of the spontaneity that can come from just letting the words flow. Often, writers don't know their characters as well as they'd like until they've spent a good amount of time with them/writing them. And as they write, these characters should grow and make their own choices and throw a massive stick in the spokes of your outline wheel.

I think it's best to plan as little as possible, to leave room for the characters and the story to adapt to each other and start to take their own path. But, because people (professors, classmates, how-to books) kept telling me that I HAD/NEEDED to do an outline, I gave it a shot. Once.

In the beginning it felt good to have all the tracks laid out before me. All I had to do was set my locomotive on its way. But then came this humongous pressure to stick to those tracks from chapter to chapter. And then the writing became tedious and forced. But after writing such a detailed plan, it felt like if I strayed from the outline the story would implode on itself. I've never felt so creatively stifled in my life! Needless to say, I've not tried again since.

So here's an analogy for you: outlining is to "train tracking" as winging it is to ________.


I love road trips. You have a general direction, a decided destination, but how you get there is completely up to you.

You want to stop and see the Nation's Largest Ball of Yarn? DO IT. You want to stop at that natural hot spring and go for a swim... NAKED? Oh, my. Scandalous. DO IT.

Oh? You thought you were getting away without a gratuitous Shia gif? Think again! 
There's a wonderful freedom to road tripping. Don't get me wrong, I still have a list for the big moments that need to happen in different acts of the novel (the best attractions to stop at on my road trip), but how I get to them is completely up to that creative flow. (Sick of the transportation metaphor yet? Hang in there!)

Like I said, and will say again, ignore everything you've read when it comes to developing your own process: all the how-to books, the many different processes of the already-famous, maybe even MY advice, and do what works for YOU! Especially for your routine. Feel out different things: cafe or library, music or silence, sitting at a desk or laying in bed, in the morning or at night, outline or no outline, train tracks or the open road (had to throw it in there one more time for good measure, #sorrynotsorry).

Do you, boo boo. Do you.

~Be mindful of the influence and opinions of others, stay true to yourself.~

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