I’ll Know When I Get There

I believe I have been thinking about outlining so much of late because I am right in the thorny middle of a new novel.  This is a big novel (big for me at least), much bigger than anything I’ve written recently.  As I have said, I don’t use outlines, and so, while it is chugging along and taking shape and I think I know where I’d like it to go, there is no denying it is a beast at the moment with a dozen dangling tentacles waggling nowhere. 

So it must go for me, apparently. Jonathan Evison, who, like myself, doesn’t do much outlining, advised me to, once I know something I have written must be changed, go back and change it immediately. “All right,” I told him. “By Jingo, I shall.” But I couldn’t. I simply must get to the end to know why I started writing the book in the first place. And though I only just told you that I think know where this book is going – I don’t. I never do until I get there. But when I get to the end I think, Yes, this is where I wanted to go. And then I go back and change everything around so the story actually leads where it’s supposed, namely in one direction. 

This is why my advice to new writers is always – finish the first draft. Even if you do outline, you won’t know what the book is really about until you get to the end. Even if it’s a murder mystery, you might get to the end, only to realize the cat burglar didn’t kill the heiress’s cousin, it was the heiress’s cousin’s cousin. You never know until you get there. 

As if you ever can with anything anyway. I’m as guilty as the next fool of trying to plan out my future.  I am always wrong, and, like it or not, the future is always surprising.  All the better, I say.  Would you buy modeling clay that came pre-shaped? What would be the fun in it?  No, the blank page of our books, of our days, of our lives, is as it should be.  The nothingness, the absolute entirety of possibility, is the wellspring of all creativity. 

Dive in. 

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2 thoughts on “I’ll Know When I Get There”

  1. I must speak for the outliners of the world! It’s like building a house. If you were a true craftsman, you could get a bunch of materials and just start building and surprise yourself with what the house will look like in the end. But things will go so much smoother if you have a plan. It doesn’t have to be an OUTLINE, but at least a plan. Improv is fine if you’re a jazz pianist, put unless you really like doing a lot of revising and cutting, a plan is the way to go.

  2. You are not alone. I have interviewed a hundred writers or so and no one can agree – or that is, no one does it the same. Even I, who am not an outliner, have a basic arc in my head. I don’t write it down, but it’s there. Even those who don’t have an outline, for sure have some vague sense of a plan. You have to. A novel relies too much on structure.

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