Outlining progress in a novel

Outlining. It’s something I know would help me, but I always run into a cognitive blockade translating the vision in my head into something sensible. In my head? It’s a three dimensional tapestry of interlocking pieces that converge to tell a story. On paper? It’s a mishmash of words that are fairly incoherent, volatile, and likely to be incomplete and therefore abandoned early.

“It’s all right,” I always tell myself. “I’ll fix the outline later. For now, let’s just get some writing done!” And I do. Often times a solid 30,000+ words. The problem is that although I bristle at the thought of following a guideline – who am I to tell me what to write?!? – the resulting story is often far more coherent in the parts where I did sit down ahead of time and map something out.

The problem that has always plagued me, I think, is the thought that it has to be a written outline. Bear with me on this one.

I was watching a Brandon Sanderson video on plotting the other day and in a not quite roundabout way, it led me to drawing out a map of the WIP I want to be working on (but refuse to put any solid words towards until there is an outline).

A funny thing happened. As I drew out the map, marking points where things needed to happen in the story, even where they should happen, I found myself doing more. Part worldbuilding, part storybuilding, I began making notes of things that had to happen here*, before this* or that*. And that’s when I realized, as I was drawing this map to frame the progress of the story with, I was also drawing an outline.

I still have a ways to go. Right now I have these pages in a small Field Notes notebook, and some poor attempts at digitizing the maps I’ve created. (Side note: it doesn’t seem like the same creative neurons are triggered drawing with a mouse on screen as with a pen and paper. Some are fired, but not the same ones.) But it’s progress on an outline, and I’ll take it.

Of course, that said, I’m getting antsy. There is only so much thinking I can do about a story before I need to dig in and start writing. I began this blog post a week ago. I’ve done little to alter the map since then, an indicator (to me) that the next creative step is to actually start putting words down. I’ve a rough outline, grounded with the map. I expect I will stray from the outline at times, but with the map in hand I hope to remain consistent no matter what.

Let me know what you think in the comments below. Although my blog is setup to post across multiple platforms, I don’t actually go to Facebook more than once a month or so, Tumblr even less so. Thanks for visiting!

NaNoWriMo 2019: Done

There were moments I wasn’t certain it would happen. After being sick three days, and having a day or two of subpar numbers, I knew it was going to be close, and I certainly didn’t think I’d finish any sooner than today.

As it turned out, I finished yesterday – at least with the part of the writing governed by “write 50,000 words in November.” The story itself is still unfolding on the page, and I’d estimate there’s at least another 10-20k words before this draft is done.

What carried me to this finish line yesterday was some Herculean writing and a persistent but awesome kid.

I started the day yesterday knowing I’d have to write 2,000 words yesterday and today to finish in time. And so, yesterday morning, I sat down and wrote and wrote, and then wrote some more, until I hat that 2k mark. With a big sigh of relief, I declared myself done for the day.

And then my youngest, who I guess isn’t so young now at 13, reminded me that I had promised to go to a coffee shop with them and write while they worked on some sketches. The promise had been made months before I even considered doing NaNo, but somehow kept getting pushed off. Which meant I knew better than to put it off any longer.

So, grabbing my laptop and kindle (just in case), we packed up, ran an errand, and then drove over to Papacinno’s, not too far from the house. Fresh coffee in hand, classic coffee shop ambiance in place, we sat down and I let the demon’s loose again. And boy, were they wild and rampant! Even with breaks for finger cramps and chit-chat, by the time I left I had done it. I had written the other half of the 4k needed to close the gap and call NaNo done.

That doesn’t mean I’ve taken a break from writing, though. I’ve already sat down today and jotted down the next 500 words in the story. My new goal is to write 500-750 words a day (500 is my base goal, 750 is my ideal, but my base is fine too). It’s not an incredible lightning pace, I know, but I was inspired by this article on Tobias Buckell’s blog. Looking over my own graphs of words produced, I see a definite zig zag in productivity, with my biggest dips usually following my greater peaks this month. We’ll see how it goes.

What’s the future of this NaNo piece, currently titled just Titan? Well, we’ll see where that goes and how it ends.

NaNoWriMo: Week Two

Did you miss the post for week one? So did I! But accountability isn’t just about making posts regularly, it’s about admitting when you missed a post and need to do another to make up for it. Like this one.

While technically we are stepping into week three now, I haven’t written my words yet for the day. I’m OK with that. Also, I need a few more minutes for my brain to warm up to the story and jump back in.

As of yesterday, I’m just past the 19k mark on the novel. That puts me slightly ahead of the average (where average is 50,000 words/30 day month equals about 1,666 words a day). I’m not on track to finish weeks or even days before the end of the month, but I also have a little wiggle room if I need it.

I agreed to do NaNoWriMo (agreed with myself, anyway) because I needed that kick in the seat to get writing again. It’s been a tough 12 months, much stress and interruption, and this is a great opportunity for me to write. That said, as soon as my word count hits 50,000, the pace is dropping. For a better insight than I could offer, I suggest reading Toby Buckell’s piece, “How Much Should You Write Every Day?“. Toby makes some great points, and I find myself realizing that I as NaNo.

You see, I could be further ahead in the novel if I wanted to be. My stopping just shy of 2k a day is a choice, not me running out of words or time. And I stop because I want to leave something for my brain to fester on over night, so that when I start writing the next day I have a starting point I know and a good 12-20 hours of mental mulling to carry it to the next milepost. 500 words a day seems a bit short, but it’s really not the number that matters I think. The point is that by writing less than you could each day, you leave enough to be able to write more the next day. And that’s how a first draft is born, no matter what the tabloids tell you. They’re messy and prone to being lopsided, but until you shape all of that wet clay you don’t have anything to chisel away at. (And yes, I know I just mixed two completely different disciplines there. Whatever.)

All right. My coffee’s getting cold, Bear McCreary is playing on the headphones, and my wife thinks all of this typing is me getting in my words for the day, not blogging. Time to get back to my novel.

And if you want to check in on my NaNo progress in real time, feel free to check in at https://nanowrimo.org/participants/mcummings