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Friday, August 19, 2011

Lists and Bad Days and Tim Riggins

“The human animal differs from the lesser primates in his passion for lists.” - H. Allen Smith


It is a running joke between me and my closest friend that there is nothing I love more than a good list. Shopping lists, lists of books, to do lists, lists of songs, more lists of books, lists of my lists. Okay, not really the last one, but now that I think about it, it’s not a bad idea.

In my day job, lists are essential. Lots of things to do, lots of details to remember, and only one me. So my desk is a veritable wonderland of lists. On paper, online, on one of three dry erase boards.

The thing is, lists work, at least for me. When I have one, things feel more organized and less chaotic. And let’s face it, between the full time job, the husband and two kids, and attempting to write a novel, organization is key.

My point? Getting there. I do have one, I promise.

So, after reading about my adoration of lists and all things organized, one would imagine that when I’m writing, my outline is my bestest best friend that I snuggled with and loved up on and relied on to keep me sane.

One would be incorrect.

In fact, outlines scare the bananas out of me. And the the strange thing is, I’m not really sure why. And outline has a lot in common with a list, right? It helps with organization, gives some course of action, yada yada yada. I should be all over an outline like a donkey on a waffle.

But I’m not. Maybe it’s because outlining is really hard?

Why, oh why, must I suffer for my art? (Said a la Scarlett O’Hara, complete with my head thrown back dramatically and the back of my hand resting on my forehead).

Outlining is hard for me. The process is basically the antithesis of how I write. It’s all overview and high level and light on details. Details are my world.

Or maybe it’s because I feel like it takes some of the magic out of the writing process. I have this illusion (i.e. delusion) that authors go into a room with nothing but a coffee pot and a toilet, draw the shades, write like the keyboard is on fire and emerge three weeks letter with a perfect, fully edited work of literary genius.

In reality, I know that’s not true. But the writer in me is also a dreamer. And the dreamer in me doesn’t seem to want to accept that this is work. Hard work.
I know some authors outline, and some don’t. So why not be one of the ones that doesn’t? Why not just be a fly by the seat of your pants type of gal? (Moment to moment, that’s me. Yes, I’m quoting Pretty Woman at you).

It doesn’t work.

Historically speaking, without an outline I get halfway through (that’s me being generous with myself) and I can’t remember what I envisioned happening anymore, I can’t make decisions about where I want it to go. I get stuck.

Of course, historically speaking, with an outline I feel stifled and locked in and I can’t remember why I wrote down that I wanted those things to happen in my story. I get stuck.

And I really don’t want to get stuck on this. I love my characters (obsessively so) and I want what’s best for them. I don’t want them sitting in the middle of a half finished manuscript saying ‘Wait! Where are you going? What happens to us??” I can’t bear the thought of them suffering. Unless, of course, said suffering is part of the story.

So I bit the bullet. I outlined.

Of course, I then immediately changed my mind on so many things that I had determined were completely static. I was so certain of something one minute, but when I looked at the outline as a whole, I found things that wouldn’t work.

Just a guess, but I think a few of you are going to relate to what came next.

My head kersploded. I feel apart. I became this utterly useless piece of whiny writer.

Because if the things I thought I knew turned out to be false, then how do I know what is true? If I found that many flaws while writing the outline, how would my story survive writing the book??

And the answer is simple. (By simple, I mean that it took me three weeks, several emoils (emails full of whine and flail - many thanks and apologies to my WBP girls and Jess and ALL the other recipients), and some serious denial partying with Riggins*.

It won’t. The story as I imagined it when I first came up with the idea won’t make it through this process.

So I’m quitting writing to watch Friday Night Lights full time? No. Although, brutal truth, I contemplated it a lot in the last few weeks, and almost decided to hang up my hat. And in those truly dark moments, I emailed just one person and said ‘I want to give up.’

Thankfully, the people in my life know me well, and love me regardless. Because the response was exactly what I needed to hear (thank goodness for Meri).

Recharge your batteries. Do what makes you happy. Read. Watch a show. Snuggle. You'll find your way.

You’ll find your way.

And that way? It’s not in the outline. There is no map from where I am now to where I’ll be when I finish. There are no step-by-step directions to guide me. I need to learn that anything can change. I need to decide what are the pieces my book can’t live without, and which ones can be sacrificed. I’m not scrapping the outline, but I am looking at it for what it is.

I’m going to learn to work without a net. I’m going in the direction that feels right at the moment. Sometimes that will be the right path. Other times, I will wind up at a dead end and have to turn back. I’ll make choices without any idea if they are the right ones. I’ll fall. I’ll fail.

And I’ll find my way.

*FNL footnote: What is it about a beautiful, broken boy? Tim Riggins is perfect. That is all.


LightStarDusting said...

It's a shame that I didn't include hanging out with BOB in that email. Because that would have made for a very interesting blog post (perhaps not so much about finding your way though... hmmmm...).

I like lists too! AND POST-ITS.

And you. I really like you.

Po1s0n said...

So don't make an outline. Make a list. Of IDEAS. Then, when you can't remember where the heck you wanted your characters/story to go, you can look at it and be like "oh yeah!" Don't number the list. It's like brainstorming. So if your ideas end up going out of order, you can just check them off and say "did that before that, but that's okay; it worked" I really need to take my own advice, because I end up doing the same thing. I get stuck. Only, I get stuck with too many ideas and no transitions.