Thursday, May 16, 2013

Why Can't The Stupid Butler Do It?

I would never drive around a foreign country -- or certain parts of New Jersey -- without a road map and GPS. So why do I ever think I can write a book without an outline? This absurdity comes over me every once and awhile. Usually when the project's editor doesn't make me do one. Seduced by an attitude I do not recommend --half laziness, the other part, plain cocky -- I jump right in with only a slim story concept to guide me. I clip along for a chapter or two, then stall out at some plot point crossroad, end up in a dead end, or swerve right off the page, all together.

"Why do write mysteries anyway? Why am I twisting my pathetic brain in a knot?... Why can't the stupid butler just do it?" This is what I yell at the ceiling in my office. No one ever answers me.

Even though the answers are easy -- especially, the the last one, since I have never written a book with a butler in it. Probing a bit deeper, the real answer is that I have abandoned my process. If you "Stick to your process," as the little yellow stickie on my forehead advises, all goes well.
A truth I have discovered after more years of writing than I'm willing to admit.

My process is the trusty little row boat I have built by hand, through trial and error. It keeps me afloat and gets me where I need to go. Not without some sweat and effort on my part, granted.
But once I get the oars into place and get comfortable in my seat, the movement soon becomes mindless and automatic. Something I don't have to think about.

Which brings me to the second truth I have learned lo these many years --- thinking and writing
are two different things. Another stickie on my forehead says, "Don't think. Just write."

Maybe when I'm writing an outline, I'm thinking. When I'm writing the book, following the outline, I don't have to think. This is not to say that I never deviate from the outline or get new ideas while I'm writing. In a way, having the outline there allows me to do more of that. Because I'm working from the finished vision.

It's the difference between trying to describe a house from a quick pencil sketch. Or a full blue print. Better yet, one of those three dimensional models with spongy green trees, curtains on the windows and tiny plates laid out on a tiny table. Maybe a pair of slippers by the bed in an upstairs room? I can just see it now.  An outline creates this entire world for me. It is real and complete. And I can come and go, observe, listen and report, as I need to.

It's a white rabbit stuffed into my top hat. Not visible to the rest of you, yet. But I know it's down there. I can feel a heart beat and see a nose twitch. All I have to do now is pull it out.

Do you have a writing process...or one for some other creative work? I'd be interested to hear
how other writers and artists manage this.



Betty Hechtman said...

I have to turn in a synopsis for each book. I always find them hard to write, but find them useful. If there is a problem with the story, my editor tells me when it is easy to change.

When I write the book, even though new things pop up, but I never get lost because I have the road map.

Unknown said...

That's just what I mean. I do find a good outline harder to write (or I think it is) than the actually book.

Linda O. Johnston said...

Everyone's writing process is different, Anne. I'm one of those who needs a plot first, even if I veer from it now and then. A synopsis generally works fine for me. I agree with Betty!

Chrystle Fiedler said...

You really helped me a lot when you said that writing comes from a different part of the brain than thinking does. For me, I find if I adhere too closely to the outline it like writing by numbers and its boring. I only write outlines now because my editor wants to see one. I have a 8 page outline for my next book which will give me plenty of freedom to create!