The Education of Intern Sara: Self Reflection and the Importance of Outlining
I started writing my first book a couple-few months ago. I’ve written over 20,000 words and I’ll admit I’m pretty damned pleased with myself. I know the 20,000 words I’ve written aren’t all gems, far from it. I’ll probably end up rewriting over half of them, but after years of mind-writing I’m glad to have something down on paper.
The question I had been dealing with the last couple of months was whether or not I should have started with an outline. It’s never really been a question, it was more of an inner struggle that I had been having with myself since I started writing. The thing is, I know I should have started with an outline but I didn’t. I was so ready to do this writing thing that I wanted to capitalize on my excitement. I knew that if I just started writing that I would be writing and that’s what I needed to do.
I wrote nearly every day for about two months and got my 20,000 words, and yes, I was pleased with myself. The problem was, that I kept promising myself that I would stop writing long enough to do the outline but I never did. Day after day I would just lunge into writing. I figured I would get to it one of these days and besides, the words were just flowing.
In the meantime I had started researching and planning the next book I intended to write. I knew that the second book would be done the right way. I wasn’t going to write one word until I had fully conceptualized the main characters and outlined the book complete with noting where significant scenes would go. This was an ongoing project and the outline didn’t need to be done until the first book was nearing completion.
Two and a half weeks ago, I was gearing up to do my daily dose of writing. I had discovered writing sprints and they are my writing mode of choice now. I feel much more focused when I am sprinting, the writing comes more easily when I write with others. I was waiting for the designated time to start but realized something. I had no idea what I needed to write. This hadn’t happened to me before. In the two months I had been writing, I would just put my hands on my keyboard, or pencil on paper, and the ideas would just flow from my mind through my hands.
I finally hit the writing-wall. You know, where you know that you have a lot to say but you can’t remember what it is. I was just kind of stuck. I hadn’t by any means run out of things to say, I just couldn’t remember what they were and now I knew that I had to stop and just do the damn outline.
I opened up a new word doc, and tried to concentrate on this book that I had been writing. I knew that once I started outlining it would just flow. I was wrong. Instead, I started thinking about my next project. I realized that I had spent two months really thinking about what I wanted to write for that project and that if any outline were going to get done that day, it would be the outline for book two. I quickly started outlining book two and within an hour I had a solid outline. I could see these characters so clearly, I understood things about them that I have yet to know about the characters that I’ve been writing for the last two months and with this realization, I knew what I had to do.
I needed to stop putting the cart before the horse with this book. My story and my characters deserve the same thought and care that I gave to book two and now I was going to give myself the time to do that. I put my 20,000 words on the backburner and started working on “book two” immediately.
I’ve been working on “book two” for nearly three weeks now and to date I’ve written a little over 12,000 words. If I didn’t already know the importance of writing an outline, I’d be sold on it now. I end each writing session knowing that I wrote something much better than I would have had I not outlined this book. Sure, I will end up rewriting what needs to be rewritten and killing darlings here and there, but I’m certain that this writing far exceeds what I was doing before, largely because of the time I put into it before I started writing.
In reflecting on the two paths, I know which path is right for me. Outlining is the only way to go. That being said, I don’t have any regrets about my 20,000-word experiment. For one thing, bad, good or great, I have 20,000 words to work with when I resume work on that book. More importantly, I did what I intended to do. I cashed in on my enthusiasm for writing and established a writing habit. In less than three months, I’ve written over 32,000 words, all of which have the potential of making it into my two books, getting me 32,000 words closer to my goal of completing a novel. My advice, do what you’ve got to do to get yourself writing, and get to that outline as soon as you can. It’s a life-changer.