When I was in college, I took an art class (see evidence of why I didn’t become an artist in the pic to the right). I learned a lot about the creative process and how to overcome obstacles to it that affect how I write.
One lesson that my art teacher taught me was to how to overcome writers-block. He did this by teaching me what to do when I got stuck. It went something like this:
Me: “I just don’t know what to do with it.” Talking about the still-life I was painting.
Professor Cole: “Ok. I see your problem.” He picked up my brush, diped it in white oil paint, then proceeds to draw a huge white streak diagonally through the middle of my assignment.
Me: “Gasp.” Overwhelmed with a sense of horror and impending doom because my assignment is due soon.
Professor Cole: “Start by fixing this.” He walks off smirking.
Me: I’m never asking him for guidance again, and getting busy immediately fixing it so I can turn it in for credit.
So that was one lesson. When you don’t know what direction to go, edit. In that same art class, I learned about an artist who was known for having the rare experience of being famous in his own lifetime. He was also known for sneaking into the museums where his work hung with brushes and paint to make changes. He just couldn’t ever call a piece of work finished. He was always in edit mode. As a result, poor guy was banned from museums where his work hung. I heavily identified with this artist.
Despite this personality defect, I somehow muddle through and end up with a completed story I can call finished. At the end of the process I look back to try and reconstruct what I did to make it easier next time, only to find that I have a hard time putting the process that I follow into neat little cubbys. If I can’t pick up those threads, nobody else would be able to for certain. This is probably an issue for ‘pantsers’ more than outliners.
Outlines are great for those with the discipline to use them. I want to write professionally and see the benefit of doing so. I can actually sit down and create my high-level outline within a few hours.
So what is my issue? Do I resist structure?
No. I can create a plan all day long, its not that I’m not a detail person. I’m actually a bit OCD when it comes to details.(I’m a technology consultant by day and let me tell you writing technical documentation can be compared to having your fingernails removed one by one.)
Is it that I’m lazy?
Nope. I write all the time. I write technical papers, training documents, blog post, and now I can add fictional novels to the list. I have a mass communications degree with a specialization in broadcasting and a History minor. Part of my coursework for my major/minor were courses that specifically taught me how to write (term papers, commercials, film scripts, etc). That was in addition to the core curriculum. I had to get very good at sitting down and writing on a deadline.
So what’s my issue?
The crux of it is this: When writing fiction, I just can’t help changing my mind. I make a plan and about 1/3 of the way into it I change my mind and thus render most of the 2/3 remaining outline unusable. Of course, this forces me to redo it if I’m going to attempt to adhere to any pretense of discipline. I think after several decades of trying to figure out my own mental workings (I’m the only one with any hope at all of attempting this), I’ve decided that the problem is I’m and editor at heart. I have to react to something. Once I’ve written a few chapters, presto-chango, I now have stimulus and can react, setting the whole vicious cycle in motion.
I know I’m not alone. This has to be a common experience, or why else would the blank page stump so many who eventually do produce a manuscript?
So, after making a plan for KJ3 that I have, once again, come to the point of scraping, I’ve decided to develop a work-around that will help me avoid re-working so much. I’m going to outline, but only a few chapters at a time. That way, once I’ve got the story underway and I decide to veer off into a unpremeditated direction, I won’t have to ditch a lot of work. Maybe just a little. This little trick will also allow me to lie to myself. I can pretend that I’m an outliner and not a pantser, which might make me feel just a little better. 🙂