First, go read this post about “outlines and word quotas and why they sometimes might lead to sucky writing.” Then come back and let me tell you about all the outlines and word quotas and sucky writing I’ve been doing lately. ‘Cause boy oh boy is it fun! (Not.)

Okay, if you’re too lazy to read Justine Musk’s post (but really, don’t be — or at least read section #3) then here’s the gist of it:

I believe in outlines. Except when I don’t.

I believe in daily word quotas. Except when I don’t.

I believe in encountering the work, which an outline can prevent you from doing.

Unfortunately, this is extremely relevant to my new book. See, I decided to set word quotas, but I did not outline, because I too believe in “encountering the work.” However, what I encountered this time was a big fat BORING first chapter.

Why? Because I wrote back story. I wrote 3,500 words about Jake and Yvonne that could have been summed up in one simple sentence: Their relationship has gone stale.

When I realized what I’d done, late on Sunday night, I kind of wanted to die. Because I was exhausted, I still had a quota to fill, and my writing was poop. (Poop!)

Did I cry that night? You bet I did. Teeny tiny tears of frustration. It sucked. Did I write that night? You bet I did. All 1,000 words. They sucked too.

So why did I even bother to finish my quota if I knew I might have to chuck most of it? Because I didn’t want to lose momentum. A more disciplined person probably could have afforded to just stop, take a step back, and focus on fixing Chapter 1, but I’ve proven time and time again that if I don’t keep my momentum going, I will lose it. And 2010 is about winning, not losing.

Therefore, I am now outlining. But wait, Kristan! Didn’t that quote say outlines are bad and lead to sucky writing?! Well, yes and no. It said outlines sometimes lead to sucky writing, because they can make a writer feel tied to an idea that doesn’t truly fit the story. But sometimes you really need an outline, otherwise you’re driving from Maine to California with no map. Sure, you might know to head southwest, but guess what? Mexico is southwest of Maine too. And though there are a few similarities, Mexico and California are most definitely not the same.

Some people have a really good sense of direction, and they would have no problem getting to California without GPS or Google Maps or even road signs. But me, I need a map. If something comes up, like heavy traffic or construction (cough cough metaphor for part of the outline that isn’t working cough cough), then I’ll find a detour. But driving across the country with nothing more than my instincts? That’s not for me. Not this time.

What about you? Do you have a good sense of direction, or do you prefer to use a map? (Note: I’m technically asking about writing, in a roundabout way, but if you want to talk about actual driving, be my guest!)

19 responses to “Accidental drive to Mexico”

  1. Jon Avatar

    “And 2010 is about winning, not losing.”


    Kristan, I think writing the back story isn’t a bad thing, it just makes the story that much richer; you’ll have details you can use throughout the novel just because of that little exercise. So, I would cry tears of joy that you have created this rich personal life for both characters that will carry on into the rest of the book. You can’t fake that kind of legwork, haha.
    .-= • Recent post by Jon: Why I Hate Log Lines =-.

  2. Aisha Avatar

    I definitely need an outline, but I can see how it does more harm than good to some writers. I’m the kind of person who has trouble filling a page, regardless of what I’m writing, so an outline is essential.

    And I agree with Jon, you’ve probably got some personality details about your characters that you wouldn’t have had otherwise. ;)

    Also, I’m really glad you’re making your quotas and not letting a little bad writing deter you. You can’t stop this momentum, keep it up!

  3. Kimberly Franklin Avatar

    Although I don’t fully outline my novel from start to finish, I do like to have a sense of what’s going to happen in the story, sort of a map, to navigate me through my journey when writing. (I like to think of it as my MapQuest map. You know, all the points are on there, laid out neatly for me to follow, but sometimes the directions just aren’t right, and you have to make adjustments. That’s when creativity kicks in.)

    I’m lazy today, which is why I just posted this snippet from one of my previous blogs. It fits the bill, though. : ) But I did read the article. That should count for something, right?

    Hope you have a great day and this was a fabulous post!
    .-= • Recent post by Kimberly Franklin: Literary Success: Twilight Part Deux =-.

  4. Justine Musk Avatar

    Oh gods, I feel your pain (and THANK YOU for the link, by the way, & glad you got something out of my post). I’ve been struggling with my novel-in-progress for a long time, and one of the things I had to accept was that a lot of what I’d written was — just like you said — backstory. I not only junked some of what I had written, I also junked an entire outline/vision of what the book was going to be.

    But it’s all good — it’s all part of finding the right track — and all that backstory ends up helping you create a rich, textured storyworld with characters who live beyond the edges of the page — the reader only needs to catch glimpses of that world to know that it exists — it’s like the bulk of the iceberg below the water that makes the visible part of it so much more striking & memorable. Something like that, anyway. (In other words, what Jon said!)

  5. Sonja Avatar

    I’ve never written with a word count goal, and I was going to say that I’ve never written with an outline, either, but the truth is that the first novel length thing I wrote was based on Bob Dylan’s “Tangled Up in Blue” which is fairly outline-ish. The next thing was also inspired by two different songs, also using them as an outline. It was only after those experiences that I branched to writing without any kind of outline (or song, as the case may be). I would think about the story quite a bit though and pretty much know how the whole thing was going to go. I just didn’t write it down. However, my stories have never been that complex on plot. I think that if you want a complex plot where everything comes to a head at the end (cough, Harry Potter, cough) you NEED an outline. You NEED to plan those threads out and weave them through the story in a specific way. If I were to write a story like that in the future, I think an outline would be fairly important.
    .-= • Recent post by Sonja: Quinn’s moral compass =-.

  6. Aurora Avatar

    hah, I was totally going to show you that post by justine, but I figured you’d be on top of things and get it in your Reader, and here you are.

    I don’t outline, and I use time quotas instead of word quotas (starting with about 1.5 hours a day). so far (the past 2 days?) doing the time quota has made aurora happy as a clam. I don’t like the rush of the word quota, and I know that if I physically sit there the whole time but let myself go at my pace, I’ll write something worthwhile.
    .-= • Recent post by Aurora: Book Unreview: Linchpin (Or, How to Be Indispensable) =-.

  7. Kristan Avatar

    You’re definitely right: they’re not wasted words. I still wish there had been less of them, though, and more good ones lol.


    LOL to MapQuest. SO TRUE.

    Thank YOU for posting what you did! Hopefully we both get the tips of our icebergs sorted out, eh? ;P

    Other people might not agree, but I think that whether you just do it in your head or actually write it down, it’s an outline. (I mean, unless we’re just talking like 3 plot points, in which case, okay, not an outline.)

    However, maybe not writing it down allows you to avoid some of what Justine talked about (i.e., feeling obligated to follow the outline) since it’s more nebulous, you know? Hmm. That’s good food for thought.

    (That said, I have the worst memory ever! So I kind of have to write things down…)

    Lol I’m glad I didn’t disappoint. And yes, I think time quotas can be good too, and serve the same purpose. My writing adviser in college was a big proponent of time vs. word quota. I think it all depends on your personality, you know? So I’m glad you know what makes you happy as a clam!

  8. Mike Chen Avatar

    I outline. And I write out of order afterward. This can lead to extreme notes for consistency, but I find that it lets me handle character situations easier to force their development under pressure rather than their journey’s start.

    I think keeping a rough outline is fine as long as you’re not tied to it. It just helps you keep structure.
    .-= • Recent post by Mike Chen: Pitch/Query Help =-.

  9. Pseudo Avatar

    You’ve read Bird by Bird? By Ann Lamont? I love the chapter on shitty first drafts.

  10. Kristan Avatar

    Mmm, out of order, eh? I used to do that. Now I don’t know what I’ll do, haha. I would think an outline would make out of order writing more acceptable. (Versus I used to run into the problem a lot of writing scenes that I never connected to because by the time I got to that part they didn’t make sense anymore.)

    No I haven’t! I know I should, though. I’ve heard such great things.

  11. Dara Avatar

    Well, I definitely tried writing sans outline for my current WiP–or at least a very loose one–and guess what? I’m back at square one again :P The book went in all sorts of directions; there’s hardly anything cohesive about the draft at all because I would change where the story was heading every chapter.

    So now, I’m going back and starting close to the beginning. I can’t move forward since the story essentially changed completely. But now I have a slightly more structured outline–enough that I can follow where I’m going for the most part.

    Anyway…in real life with driving, I’ve got a great sense of direction. Unfortunately that doesn’t carry over to my writing–I need a map the entire way.
    .-= • Recent post by Dara: New Directions =-.

  12. Kristan Avatar

    Lol yup, that was me with Book #1. I still love the story and characters deeply, so I’ll have to go back to it with a real plan of attack someday.

  13. Mike Chen Avatar

    Since my guest post didn’t win on Nathan Bransford’s contest, I’m gonna repost it on my blog later this week. It shows a very basic template that’s been used forever and how it applies to different works. If you don’t want to use an outline, at least these points provide a tentpoles.

    Oh, what a teaser! Check my blog in a day or two. ;)

  14. Kristan Avatar

    LOL what a sad bunch we are. You, me, and Meghan have all posted things that didn’t win Nathan Bransford’s contest. (Well, I had posted before the contest, and Meghan just posted today, and you’re going to post in a couple days.) Too funny. But I’ll be on the lookout for yours!

  15. Lindsey Avatar

    I just wrote about my own struggle with outlines. I’m almost beginning to wonder if it doesn’t vary among books, let alone authors!
    .-= • Recent post by Lindsey: A freebie! =-.

  16. Kristan Avatar

    I think for sure it does! Hi and welcome! :)

  17. Joy Avatar

    I definitely need an outline — but I unfortunately never use them…which is probably why my writing sucks. *siigh* Thanks for the tip, I will try making a “rough outline” from now on and see if it helps. Keep up the good work 2010 will be a great year for you
    .-= • Recent post by Joy: Wheatberry Salad with Poached Egg and Potato Crisps =-.

  18. Chris Avatar

    Maps! I use maps…if I didn’t I would probably have gone missing by now, haha. I like to think I can do it by just following my gut but who am I kidding, maps are my best friend. No shame in it! :)
    .-= • Recent post by Chris: Bridgestone Motorcycle Tires =-.

  19. Ace Avatar

    I tend to outline. I like to have at least a general idea of where I’m headed. The specifics and details will come as I’m writing but I know ahead of time that I’ll be going from A to D and passing B and C to get there.