November 17, 2009

Organization? ME??!?

Posted in Nerdiness, Project: Fail, The How, The Process, The WTF at 8:35 am by Dagny Taggart

First of all, I want to bring the interrobang back.  Now.  You know where we can put it?  In the “special characters” space currently occupied by “∂”, which apparently stands for “partial differential”.  I am SURE the interrobang would get more use, if properly publicized.

At any rate, I was doing a little bit of thinking yesterday, puttering around after work and getting ready for pool.  And it hit me.

I need an outline.   The reason I’ve made precisely the same three or four paragraphs of headway every time I’ve tried to write a piece of fiction, without fail, is that I have too many options as to where it could go afterward.  And I can’t decide, while I’m actually writing, what’s going to happen next.  Which characters to introduce when, which backstory should go with whom.  All of these ideas just swirl around, bumping into each other and dropping stacks of papers and generally causing a ruckus.

I’d thought, for the longest time, that I was a NO-OUTLINE kinda girl.  I mean, I’d start 35-page papers roughly 36 hours in advance of their deadline, with a stack of references to my left, Diet Coke, Marlboro Lights and an ashtray to my right, a roommate with a lighter similarly situated on the other side of the room, and emerge with enough time to shower and change before dropping the paper off in the appropriate faculty mailbox.  It was the only way the papers got done (and I did pretty well on them, scarily enough).

But those papers kind of have a built-in outline.  Academic work follows a pretty typical pattern, one that was burned into my brain so thoroughly as to become instinctive.  And thus, a subconscious outline punctuated by smoke breaks and the occasional Lean Pocket guided my thoughts, kept tangents at bay, and wrangled my theses into a submission.

For this, it is not so automatic.  There is no sharply blazed trail through the jungle of my creative brain, and thus… things fall apart.  So, I have to write an outline, I suppose, because these ideas REALLY want out of my head. 

Anyone know how to do that in a way that won’t make me want to stab out my eyeballs?



  1. Brian said,

    When I was in HS and early in college, not only did I not outline, but I didn’t proofread hardly at all. At the time, I couldn’t type unless I was staring at the keyboard, so I essentially wrote, spellchecked, and proofread on the fly. It got to the point where, when I took the GMAT, I had to re-remember how to set up and write a 5-para essay.

    I wholeheartedly suppor the outline for storytelling. I don’t know how one would get an entire arc sorted out without one. That’s always been my issue; I feel like I’d be good at writing scenes, but I can’t put an entire story arc together to save my life. Fortunately, few crises present themselves that can only be solved by the presentation of a cohesive mismatched-buddy-road-comedy script.

    The interrobang: how James Bond gets his information.

  2. Brian said,

    “I wholeheartedly supporT…”


    See proofreading reference, above… :-/

  3. Lisa said,

    So, I have never, ever been good at outlines. I remember when they taught us to outline in school and I could never make parallel levels of I and II and A and B and all that. I never outlined for papers or anything. BUT sometimes you need an outline of sorts. So I took to using dashes and circles and not worrying if the levels were parallel. This works for me.

    And impressive that you’re writing fiction! It’s so hard (for me)!

  4. Brian: Hahahahhaa. Also, yes. The cohesion of scenes is definitely my struggle – but I really WANT to do it, and the outline seems to be the only real solution, as wretched a process as I suspect it will be.

    Lisa: Oh, I REALLY don’t think I could do an outline unless I made a point of using completely nontraditional level indicators. Like I might use roman numerals for one story arc, but would have to use pizza components or something for another, just so it wasn’t so rigid and formal-looking. Maybe the third segment would be indicated by woodland creatures – grizzly, then deer, then foxes and raccoons and sloths and red pandas, then squirrels and chipmunks and otters. I’m sure my outline will take months to complete, but I could not bear to have a boring, stuffy one.

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