The Thrill is Gone–Mary Buckham Explains Why Outlining Can Feel Like a Drag!
Mary Buckham was in town a couple of weeks ago. If you haven’t met her, or had the pleasure and privilege of taking one of her classes, well, POOR YOU! She’s just super. A giving and generous teacher who will keep working with you ’til you get what you need. (And I’ve taught, so I know how sometimes you want to throw up your hands and say, “Um, this just isn’t going to happen!”)
I asked her this question: “I’ve noticed that as I work on my story outline, the whole ‘luster’ seems to dull. Last night reading Dwight Swain’s Techniques of the Selling Writer, he ‘talked’ about the danger of speaking your story because when it’s new and fragile, it can be damaged by careless comments from others. And it seems logical to me that as I outline, that I’m sort of killing the frog–that’s a reference to a comment by Mark Twain about how you could take apart a frog to see how he jumped, but you’d kill him in the process.
I do see my work more clearly, and my writing is more confident after my extensive outline. I do know that I’ve included twists and turns, but…is this a normal part of the planning process? When you and Dianna plot, does some of the shine of the idea go dull?”
And here’s her most excellent response:
“I think most authors enjoy a pre-writing euphoria of the ‘new story’ because it’s like an unexplored path down a shady glen – no clue what’s going to be around the next corner and that wakes up our inner child to simply have fun! Then there’s the ‘into the story’ part of the process — which is work and work is a four-letter word 🙂 Doesn’t mean it can’t be fun but it is the reality-adjustment part of the process – asking the hard questions and pushing the boundaries of craft in seeking options for the strongest plot possible.
“This is where I hear the word ‘hard’ come into play when working with writers-particularly newer writers who are used to only the end result– a beautifully plotted and crafted book with no concept of what was involved to get a project to that point. Great news though is after the reality-check of plotting a book comes the exploratory, didn’t-know-that phase that is part of the actual writing.
“This is where a plot keeps you centered and grounded while the words on the page suck you into the the experiences and emotions of the point of view character and unleash the fun again. There’s nothing like getting lost in telling a story while knowing your pages can be kept because they are not willy-nilly exercises in writing but building blocks to creating a great story. So the short answer is yes — sometimes the gleam of a story can fade but the cool thing is beneath that gleam can be gold if you’re willing to keep polishing and polishing. I think what Swain referred to more was when we talk our ideas or share without thought to who we’re sharing with. At that stage a story can wither under the nay-sayers or lack of enthusiasm and that’s very sad. There is a very fine, but very clear line between criticism and critique and both can kill an idea at the bud stage.”
LJ Sellers also tackled the “should I try an outline or not” topic here http://workingstiffs.blogspot.com/2009/04/your-first-draft-doesnt-have-to-suck.html
It’s tough work to write a book, and following an outline takes discipline. I asked Stuart Kaminski once what he thought about the whole outlining versus not-outlining process. He said that he would never have been so prolific if he didn’t outline. The gist was…non-outliners start in a flurry, but frequently find they don’t know where to go, or that they’ve written themselves into a corner. Amen to that!
If you’ve ever tried to tear apart a book to rewrite it, you know how horrid that feels. It reminds me of trying to get your car out of a rut. No matter how hard you twist the wheel, you keep going back into the same hole in the ground.
For now, I’ll stick with outlining. How about you?