That outlining thing

Yeah, it didn’t really work out. And if I’m honest, I was pretty disappointed it wasn’t working out. I’d done brainstorming and research beforehand and I thought I had a good handle on my magical cookies and my main characters. I got the basics of the outline down – things like motivation, theme, antagonist, etc – and thought it was going pretty well, until I reached the bit that I always fail at: deciding what actually happens.

I got the opening scenes and the ending scenes sorted and then – nothing. ‘Okay, okay,’ I said to myself. ‘This is what you expected. Write the scenes you have and then plan further.’

So I started writing. I’ve only written around 2.5k words so far, but already I’m diverging from what sparse outline I have. My MC’s external goal is the same, but her reasons for doing it are completely different, and she’s impeded by a character I hadn’t even thought of when I started writing the outline. I don’t think this is a bad thing, but I am kind of feeling like the afternoon I spent working on the outline wasn’t really needed. And I was disappointed. Two weeks ago I thought outlining was THE thing I needed, and yet here I was with a rubbish outline that had almost nothing to do with what I’d written down.

I moped a bit (writing’s meant to involve some moping, right?), and then I realised that perhaps I wasn’t wrong about outlining being the solution, but rather, I was wrong about when that solution should be implemented.

Let me tell you the story of the neverending WIP. I’ve been working on this story for, quite literally, years. It’s in its fourth or fifth iteration now, and sits at around 45k words. I’ve not touched it in a few months though, because it’s such a mess that it feels overwhelming to try to keep writing, even though I love the world and the characters. I have first-person present tense passages, third-person past tense passages, characters drinking tea and doing nothing, characters doing the same thing twice because I changed my mind about how they should do it, plot threads appearing and disappearing at random, it’s a mess. And everyone says it’s okay for the first draft to be a mess, but it’s gotten so messy that I really struggle to pick it up and keep going because I can’t get a grasp on the story.

This happens in every draft. Every one of them I’ve stopped around 40-60k words and started over, because it’s just gotten too unwieldly. The problem, of course, is that each time I start over again I’m effectively pantsing it all over again, so halfway through I again end up mired in a rambling, incoherent mess. I told myself at some point during this draft that I’d get all the way to the end before revising, but it’s getting messier and messier. I alphabetise my books and colour-code my diary. My brain does not handle disorder well 😉

I’ve tried outlining this story before, back in April or so when I first realised I was getting confused by my own plot (this is not a good position to be in. I do not recommend it). I struggled with it because I felt like it didn’t ‘fit’. In retrospect, this was probably a sign that the story is broken, which is why I can’t seem to get anywhere with it. I don’t think it’s irreparably broken, but I think I need to kill some darlings.

But not yet. I’m going to keep working on this new story for now, partly because I’m SUPER-ENTHUSIASTIC about it, and partly because I think it will be easier to critically examine my first story after some more time away. When I inevitably reach the point in this book where I have no idea what’s going on, I’ll put it aside and I’ll work on rewriting my first book, but this time with a plan.

Apologies if you’re here for bookish goodness moreso than my navel-gazing writing rambles; most of what I’ve been reading recently is either re-reading or research for my WIP, so most of my recs and recent reads are featuring over at Coven Book Club lately.


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