The Unexpected Outline

28 Feb

I’ve blogged here before about how my first crack at a novel was pounded out on a pilfered typewriter.  There was no stopping to edit, and certainly no outline.

This week, I’ve been working on a short story where I’ve meticulously outlined every scene.  I’m estimating the outline will be almost a fifth as long as the final manuscript.

What changed?  I don’t think outlining is inherently better or worse than winging it (I do something in between when drafting novels, now).  But for years, I thought I was simply not an outliner.  I’d written something freestyle, so surely everything I wrote should be done in that manner.

Little by little, I tried outlining.  I learned something: outlining is useful for me.  More useful than fretting at the keyboard without a road map.  It’s become an invaluable tool for my writing — one I wished I’d tried earlier.

One of the keys to writing well is figuring out what, in the sea of writing advice, works for you.  Writing is largely solitary.  There are, it seems, as many ways to write as there are writers.

I’ve tried suggestions, of course, that didn’t work.  I used to make police-style dossiers for characters per the advice of a writing book, but these always felt like middle school worksheets — and they never added the promised depth to my characters.  So I stopped.

I’ve heard authors rave about how writing is best done in multi-hour blocks.  Accordingly, I used to strive to write in such stretches, in a calm room, with a serene mind fully ready for writing.  I didn’t get much writing done.  Then I had kids and let go of the idea of calm hours alone all together.  I learned to write in ten-minute bursts, and discovered that I write better and more consistently in small chunks.

I imagine my process will continue to change, shifting little by little as I figure out what tools and techniques work well for me — or for a particular story.  And so today, I’m writing from a tight outline, something I thought I’d never do.  Oddly, it’s working fine.

Anyone else have a story about unexpected changes to the way you write?


Posted by on February 28, 2013 in writing, writing craft, Writing Faster


13 responses to “The Unexpected Outline

  1. Judith Keim

    February 28, 2013 at 5:02 AM

    Good blog, MK! I’ve tried to write outlines with no success and have been working harder to have at least a broad sweep with more details. It’s very helpful when you’re stuck to know where you’re heading!!

  2. marsharwest

    February 28, 2013 at 7:38 AM

    Hey, MK. I think you nailed it. We all have to figure out what works for us. My last book was done in long weekends locked away from every distraction. I did use a few follow up weeks of regular writing. I can knock out 1/3 of the book in one of those weekends. Of course, I don’t always have that luxury. (Probably a good thing, too. My hands and shoulders ache like the dickens when I do that. LOL) That process lets me be more creative than the way I wrote my first couple of books with 20 pages a week that were critiqued by CPers. Probably at that point in my writing that’s what I needed as I struggled with grasping the craft.
    Well, because I’ve been a long time commenter here, I’m going to take a moment of personal priviledge to point out that my updated web site has gone live, and I posted my first blog today. Hope some of you lovely folks will stop by at Have a great day.

    • Janis McCurry

      February 28, 2013 at 8:40 AM

      Marsha, I’ll stop by.

    • MK Hutchins (@mkhutchins)

      February 28, 2013 at 9:18 AM

      The site looks great! I especially like the glow-effect around the lettering of your name. Very sharp.

      • marsharwest

        February 28, 2013 at 9:44 AM

        Thanks for checking it out, MK. Appreciate your time. Yeah! I gotta say, I love the way the Bemis folks did my name and they found the lighthouse and used a teal shade. I’m pretty tickeled.:)

  3. Janis McCurry

    February 28, 2013 at 8:39 AM

    MK, my writing has continued to change as I’ve progressed. For my current WIP, I’m doing a 3-act structure/Hero’s Journey amalgam and it’s helping a lot! I think we all tweak our methods as we go along.

  4. stephanieberget

    February 28, 2013 at 11:56 AM

    MK, I agree. My writing process has continued to change. One very pleasant surprise has been Pinterest. I love pinning my heros and heroines, where they live, hobbies, etc. It helped me to round out the heroine in my WIP.

  5. maryvine

    February 28, 2013 at 5:25 PM

    Yes, it does change over the years, doesn’t it? For the better (in my case), I don’t know. But I have learned what makes me get the words on the page-not that I always do that mind you. You have made me think that an outline would be a good fit for my current wip. Thanks.

  6. Lynn Mapp

    February 28, 2013 at 8:10 PM

    MK, writing is…a growth experience. I keep looking for magic, and you know that’s not going to happen. It’s a process. That’s the nice spin.

  7. Suzie Quint

    March 1, 2013 at 12:50 AM

    For me the key is to know my characters. Not in that dossier way, but to know what drives them, what they want, what they fear, what traumas shaped them. If I know them well enough, I don’t have to write the story; I merely transcribe what they tell me. If I don’t know them well enough, then I struggle until I go back and do the work I should have done to begin with.

  8. MK Hutchins (@mkhutchins)

    March 1, 2013 at 8:50 AM

    Thanks for commenting and all these stories — it’s always so interesting to see all the different ways writers write.

  9. Jennifer

    March 1, 2013 at 2:20 PM

    I love that you write in 10-minute bursts. I have two young children so it’s inspiring to hear that you can actually finish a book in this manner 🙂


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