So, last night, after work, I broke out a new! yellow pad, drew a black pen and a red pen from stores and retired to the sofa to consider Carousel Seas, Socks sitting as consultant. Since I’ve now heard from two beta readers to the effect that Carousel Sun makes sense, I feel reasonably confident in moving on with the story.
Now, usually, I work outline-free. Which is to say, I’ll sketch in some notes, some bits of dialog, some questions that the narrative ought to address, but that’s pretty much it. At some point, I’ll feel like I have Enough Stuff to start typing. I type for the first, oh, third of the book, then I read what I have and see what the threads are, and consider where they’re going. From that point on, I’ll make chapter-going-forward (or scene-going-forward) notes and so on until the thrilling conclusion. This method is somewhat uncertain, and can become a little hair-raising in the face of serious auctorial illness or a severe bout of depression, but in general it Works for Me. And, no, it’s probably not how grown-up writers do it.
Having said all that, I will confess that I have worked from an outline once or twice — for values of having produced an outline, which I then threw away when the story took a left turn. After all, I’m usually under contract for a novel, not an outline, so the outline is, IMNSHO, disposable*. From these early experiences, I learned that outlines (for me) are pretty much useless. That scene-sketching, writing bits of dialogue, and being open to SFoG (Sudden Flashes of Genius) is much more useful to what we’ll dignify as My Process.
The trouble with all of this being that, due to mostly having day-jobs during my formative years as a writer, I’ve been pretty much a Night Writer. Brain turns on at 5:00 p.m. and we’re off to the races. Early in the day, I’ll edit what I wrote yesterday, and maybe noodle out some notes, but the actual work happens late in the day. This needs to change, at least somewhat, due to Reasons, and it occurred to me that it might make the transition to Day Writer easier if I had a road map to assist my daylight-shocked brain.
And I sat there on the couch, with my pen poised over the nice, new yellow pad, with Socks, remember, consulting. . .and wrote down the questions left over from the previous book; other things I think need to be addressed, going forward…and flipped the page, thinking, “Outline. It’s not hard.” . . .and got nowhere and, finally, gave up, because, yanno, how can I outline something that hasn’t happened yet?
This would seem to be a bigger conceptual change than I had thought.
So, writers who read here — outline or no outline? And! If outline, how do you outline something that hasn’t happened yet?
*I was at Boskone on a panel with a writer who swore that he produced 130-page outlines. Which, full disclosure, seems nuts to me. He then went on to explain that he’d gotten to the point in the current project where he realized that the outline had misled him, and was in the position of having to tear out 9,000 words — or possibly start the book over; it was Sunday afternoon, I was tired, and he was heated — and the deadline was looming. Which only serves to reinforce my own feelings regarding outlines: They’re only going to betray you in the end…