In writing there are rules you live by and rules to die by.
And then there are those pesky take-it-or-leave-it rules. Some swear by them while others take a different view. Some believe that before you begin the actual writing you must first create an outline, along the line that you need a completed skeleton before you can begin to add any flesh. As described in my last post, Henry Miller was an obsessive outliner and scheduler, programming his days and his projects with equal specificity and vigor. From his talk at the San Francisco Writer’s Conference, I’ve come to learn that Alan Rinzler, a developmental editor who has worked with many literary marvels the likes of Hunter S. Thompson and Tom Robbins, is another stalwart believer in the outlining process.
Based on these and other die-hard outliners, as well as the difficulty I was having getting my WIP off the ground, I am working from an outline. At first I was thrilled with unforeseen benefits gleaned from the outlining process. I found once I began to draft it, many questions and unknowns became known – themes, key scenes and where the story should start came into clearer focus. Once the bones were there, I took the process one step further by creating, under each of the primary outline headings, a series of bulleted main events that act as both memory and creative prompts for the construction of the body of each section. My outline completed, I was excited and raring to start adding the flesh to each of the sections.
Lately though, I look at this growing document and I find myself getting overwhelmed. It doesn’t help that so far I’ve filled in bits as they come to me, going back and forth throughout the chronology adding things here and there, hither and yon, highlighting sections that need more detail or notes to myself where I know something isn’t quite right or is only partially complete. The result is a work in progress that is taking on the distinctive appearance of a many-headed Hydra, which I am beginning to feel powerless to subdue.
So my question is this: Can you outline yourself into a corner? Can an outline become a noose that strangles your story, your creativity, and a gargantuan speed bump on the road to a completed first draft? Could it actually be counterproductive and bridle your creativity by preventing you from making discoveries about your story that you otherwise would not? Do you write chronologically, chapter by chapter, paragraph by paragraph in a linear fashion that keeps your story moving along in a controllable fashion, so that each morning you know where it is that you’ve been and where you need to go today?