the Christmas decorations are stored away and the mini Valentine’s Day
flag is flying on my front porch, and I’m still
writing 2009 on my checks. Sheesh. My biggest complaint this time of
year is directed at Mother Nature: Choose a season and stick with it,
ya loony ol’ bat, cuz this see-sawing between winter and spring is
driving me (and my crocuses) nuts!
In all fairness to Ma Nature,
she’s been around awhile. Maybe menopause has set in, and the crazy
mood swings are hot flash–related? If that’s the case, what she needs
is a plan. A list of sorts she can stick to, regardless of her
temperament at any given moment. An outline even,
that’ll help her focus on what she should do
instead of what she feels like doing . . .
To Outline or Not?
I received this question in an
e-mail, but if I had a dollar for every time I’ve heard it from
students and workshop attendants, I could easily treat my family to
dinner at McDonald’s:
I just finished my
second book and have started a third (though none have sold yet). I had
to totally rewrite the first book . . . twice! Some of my published
author friends say it’s because I don’t use an outline. I don’t want to
go through all those massive rewrites again, but I’m afraid a formal
outline will inhibit my creativity. Besides, I’ve heard that successful
authors like Nora Roberts don’t outline, so why should I?
Bear with me while I take a big,
deep drink of patience.
Okay. I’m the first to admit
that every writer works differently. And that there’s no “write: or
wrong way to get from “Once upon a time” to “The End.” So I tell them
how things work for me and invite them to apply the information—in full
or in part—to the way they do things.
People often say I’m a hard
worker; “‘Loree’ and ‘lazy’ don’t belong in the same sentence,” they
tell me. Maybe that’s because, even when they stop by unannounced, my
house is spic n span, the laundry and dishes are done, the spice racks
and pantry are alphabetized, and the clothes in my closet hang in not
only color order but also by sleeve and hem length.
Now, before you sharpen the
blade on your guillotine, allow me to make a confession: I’m the
laziest person I know. Those “neat house” things? They’re the direct
result of—you guessed it—outlining.
I make an outline before leaving
for the grocery store; another for annual, monthly, daily goals. Some
might call them to-do lists (to which I say pah tah toe), but outlines
are what keep me organized. And being organized is what allows me to
park my lazy butt in my big overstuffed chair at the end of the day and
do, well, whatever my lazy butt wants to do!
Outlines are a requirement for
me “on the job.” Without an outline, I’m lost and confused, which makes
me waste time. And few things I dislike more than wasting time. (Except
maybe not enough of it, but that’s another column.)
I outlined every blessed one of the more than 2,500 articles and
sixty-two short stories I’ve had published. I outline lesson
the (writing) classes I teach at the local college and online. Speeches
on writing related topics are (you guessed it!) outlined. Each of my
published romances was written after I’d completed
(a yup!) an outline.
Far from inhibiting
creativity, outlines free me to tell believable stories without fear of
sagging middles, uncharacteristic dialogue, confusing plot points . . .
in short, anything that might force me into time consuming rewrites.
As for the Nora Roberts comment?
I, too, have heard that she
doesn’t outline. But even writers who don’t create formal outlines,
outline. But they’re the natural born storytellers we all aspire to
become; they know, instinctively, what belongs in a novel . . . and
what does not. Like fine chefs, they know exactly when to add a pinch
of tension, a dash of conflict, when to turn up the heat, when to let a
story simmer. Maybe “years of experience” is their secret ingredient.
Perhaps natural talent is their trademark “spice.” Possibly, delectable
stories are the result of seasoning and a God given gift. But make no
mistake: They are outlining. They’re just doing it
in their heads (lucky stiffs!).
As for me, despite the fact that
I’ve earned dozens of industry and readers’ choice awards for the
seventy-some books in print, I’m going to keep right on outlining until
there are hundreds of Loree Lough titles on the
shelves. For me, outlining works.
Besides, let’s face it: There’s
only one Nora Roberts.