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"Hard is not hopeless." - General David Petraeus

Sunday, January 1, 2012

The Quote That Plagues Me

I was recently skimming through a book by David Fryxell called Write Faster, Write Better.  Coming from a non-fiction background gave Mr. Fryxell a good foundation for speaking to the topic.  In this book, he had a quote by author Jon Franklin, who says:

In telling yourself you can’t outline, what you’re really saying is that you can’t think your story through.”

I was more than mortified by this quote, because my first thought was "Oh my gosh! He's talking about me!"  Because I do have problems outlining my books.  Oh, sure, I can do the beginning/middle/end stuff.  But where I struggle is knowing where to begin a story, and how much plot is too much plot for one book.

Yes of course I realize I have the option of just writing whatever comes to me, than taming that 500K epic down to 100K in the re-writes.  But I want, more importantly NEED to learn to work faster.  Not a 3-4 books a year faster, but I don't think it is unreasonable to expect two first drafts a year from myself.  The more books become entrenched in this digital age, the more important it is I prove to myself and others that I can produce product in a timely fashion.  And it is very common for authors to have books in various stages--one they're writing first draft, another going through edits, research on another one, etc.

I need to keep my manuscripts in motion.  But first I have to get the blasted things outlined!

I am neither seat of the pants nor detailed outliner.  But in my heart I want to be a moderately detailed outliner, just because I'm a geek.  But mostly I want to be efficient with my time.  So time constraints put a great deal of self-pressure on me concerning how I approach my writing.

But here's my other, bigger problem with outlining.  My brain automatically thinks in terms of epics.  I'm talking Roots saga type stuff.  I have yet to come up with a story idea that did not automatically morph into a long saga.  What typically happens is I'll come up with one story idea, usually that falls somewhere in the middle of main character's life.  Next thing you know I'll be scheming up stories about the precursor years or the post-years and each of those take on a life of their own.  And I just can't seem to turn epic-brain off.

In this regard, I am probably one of few.  I did a blog post in the past here at Arizona Inspiration, and clearly, most folks prefer a series of books to one epic length work.  With rare exceptions, the time of the epic length works has come and gone. 

Which brings me back to my problem.  Outlining that gargantuan gob of plot in my head into individual stories, and figuring out where is the appropriate place to start each of them.  For others, this may seem easy as pie.  For me, not so easy.

Take my work in progress, what would be the first book in the series.  I wrote the second book in the series over the course of 6 years.  But then I wanted to tell the wife's story, what this WIP is about.  But guess what? Another major character has evolved with plenty of story of her own, and the two main characters are out of time sequence with one another.   (one main character is several years younger than the other, so their life experiences come at different times).  How much of that to address in the novel?  And how to lay it out in the novel?  Or does it require another novel of its own?

You see the vicious cycle here?  AGH! 

So yes, as the writer puts it, I do wonder if I'm incapable of thinking through my own story.  Largely, I think the problem is one of perfectionism.  If I pour all my time, effort, and research into a project, I want it to be the best it can be.  But because of perfectionism, I often leave myself floundering, unable to figure out how to move forward.  I know.  It must sound absolutely silly.  But it's a struggle.

At this stage of my life, I've learned how to carve out time from a hectic schedule and get the words down.  But get the outline down?  Not so hot.  And it's a problem I'm determined to smash through this year.

So if you have words of wisdom for this discombobulated writer, I'd surely appreciate it.

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