Outline? What Outline?

Does anyone else feel like the sole purpose of outlines is to be thrown away?

Maybe my characters are just particularly unruly, but it seems like the second I sit down to type, my careful planning goes out the window. Oh, sure, elements of it remain; but I generally have to re-outline halfway through, and then that one gets tossed as well.

The funny thing is, I can’t work without an outline, even if it’s not what I’m writing. For example, last week, I got to a point in my manuscript where I had just strayed too far from my plan, and I got stuck fast. I knew what needed to happen, but there were too many scenes and parallel timelines getting tangled up in my head. I wrote and scribbled and doodled and made arrows and charts and it all failed. Finally, I stuck my little Scout in her stroller and dragged my husband out for a walk so that I could talk it through in the open air with lots of wild hand gestures.

It worked! The sequencing was clear, all the characters were taken care of, and everything had its place. We walked home, I made a simple, neat flow chart, and was satisfied. The next day, I sat down to write what I had charted the day before.

And that darn Cabel went veering off into left field, taking all the other characters with him.

So my flow chart is relatively obsolete, but at least parallel enough to what’s really happening that I can keep leaning on it.

What about you other outliners? Do you stick pretty close to what you’ve planned, or do you find yourself writing something completely different?


Colors and Squares

When I was in Germany a few years ago, I was still in the habit of writing my stories by hand, rather than on my computer. I used up the notebooks I had brought with me several weeks before it was time to return home, so I went hunting for a new one. I’ll tell you now, I’m a creature of habit, and it nearly killed me when I realized that all the notebooks were A4–i.e., not the same size as all of my letter-sized notebooks that stacked neatly together. Nor could I find one with college-ruled paper. It was with great apprehension that I walked out of the store with a spiral-bound, A4 notebook filled with graph paper.

But, as we all know, tragedy is a wellspring of creativity. Upon being forced to let go of my letter-sized, college-ruled notebooks, I discovered a better way to plan. Graph paper is amazing! You can write in any direction. You can write in several directions on the same page. It’s SO much easier to make straight lines for tables. And doodling! Doodling is so much fun on graph paper.

Inspired by my forced breach of habit, I decided it was time to break away from my black and blue Bics and get myself a pack of Stabilo pens. And just like that, I went from Kansas to Oz, with planning sessions in ten bright, fine-tipped colors. I started color-coding my notes. When I would get stuck, I could change colors, and suddenly things were in a new perspective. And doodling! My doodles were ten times awesomer! If nothing else, guys, go get a pack of Stabilos for the sake of your doodling.

I changed to writing on my computer shortly after I returned home, but I still use that notebook and my Stabilos for planning (and doodling). There are pages with big blue questions scrawled across them, and pages with neat green tables, and pages with boxes of tiny red text facing every which way. I love this notebook, and when its A4 pages finally run out, I may just have to run back to Germany for another.

How do you plan? Do you have any obsessions with certain kinds of writing supplies?