Outlines

As a developmental editor, my friend Janyre Tromp preaches the importance of outlines and how they’re critical for attacking edits (even if you don’t use them for the actual writing).

How/when do you use outlines and what do you use to create them?

That was the challenge Janyre tossed out this morning at Editing Insiders with Janyre and Sarah. I thought I would toss in my two cents worth.

Janyre Tromp and Sarah DeMey are two professional editors with more than 40 years combined experience with a traditional publisher. Janyre is a developmental editor and novelist who started in the marketing department of the publishing world more than 20 years go. And Sarah, who’s spent more than 25 years in the industry, is the utility player of the editorial team. She can do it all!

So they have the credentials. They really help the private community members navigate this crazy world we call writing and publishing.

I also agree outlining is an important element in the writing process, but …

My experience — 50 plus years as a writer, editor and publisher in the newspaper world; an almost daily blog post for the last eight years; and four published books — tempers the answer. I’ve seen it too many times {in myself as well} where the outline gets in the way and actually stifles the words. The author gets so involved in making sure each box in the outline gets checked off that the flow or continuity suffers. Certainly the creativity — the heart and soul of writers — becomes restrained.

Professionally, I never grew up using formal outlines. In my world, deadlines became the bigger issue. I never had the luxury to map out a story on an outline storyboard. It typically was written on the fly in a relatively short time from notes chiseled in the mind or hastily written notes {like quotes}, only sometimes legible in retrospect.

That being said, I am in awe of those organized writers who can plan and plot a story by connecting written notes. When I tried doing that with my fun writing, those notes got in the way. And as I got more involved with editing, proofreading and beta reading, it became clear I am not alone. I mean, if you took the time to scribble a note, it must important to your story, right? It has to be included, right?

And that’s where the creativity has to upshift.

When I taught my writing class, I emphasized that point to the classes. Stringing words together isn’t the challenge. Stringing words together that make sense and flow is the challenge.Often, that means erasing the link on the outline.

As a case in point, I’ll point to my Sam series.

If you remember, Heaven Shining Through started as a social, community writing project. No outline. No notes. No direction. Not even a genre. By the way, I DO NOT endorse this approach. It was written in a serial style … one segment or scene at a time, week by week. As the story evolved, all I worked on was the next scene, linking it to the previous scene(s). It wasn’t until I was more than halfway through the serial that I had an ending in mind and started working the story in that direction. Even that, however, was confined to my mind.

When I decided to publish My Name Is Sam … and Heaven Is Still Shining Through I had a starting point, the original novella. My initial “outline” had Heaven Shining Through in a box in the middle of a page, flanked with a note to the left that said “Growing up as Sam and her friends” and on the right with a note with a cryptic “after mom dies. now what?” As I was writing the novel, I would — sometimes — add a note about a character or incident I wanted to either expand upon or at least include. Most of the time, however, I would just write. Sometimes I would add a note to the “outline” more as a reminder to check at the end of the process.

On my still unnamed WIP — focused on Sam’s legacy, especially with her granddaughter — the first thing I did was formally start with an outline. {I do listen to conventional wisdom, but it’s hard to teach old dogs new tricks.} Most of the time, the outline — a beginning, a middle, and an end with various shoots for relationships, scenes, and key thoughts that popped into my mind — serves as a mental GPS. Anyone who knows me knows, though, I am just as likely to wander off the route at any time for any reason. I’m down one of those unmarked trails right now.

The Wisdom From a Father … one dad’s thoughts on life series, Volumes 1 and 2, are updated posts from my blog. By nature they typically are short reflections. I do not use formal outlines for 500 or so words. I do, however, start with a mental premise and just let the neurons flow.

That’s my story for Jaynre. That’s my two cents worth. I agree planning and outlining are important with the caveat outlines are guides to help, not hinder the creative process. Let the creativity out. Let the words flow naturally. Writing is expression. It’s passion — your passion. Not a  bunch of rules. Writing should bring you joy, not angst. If you use an outline, recognize it is just that a guide … not the finished product.

THOUGHT TO REMEMBER: I have learned how to love myself by how I treat myself, how I talk to myself, and by building a community of love around me. — Tracee Ellis Ross

About wisdomfromafather

I'm just an ordinary guy walking along the journey of life.
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