|Lisbeth would happily tell you
what you can do with your outlines
But that’s just me… (Warning, this will get dirty).
Why this is even a debate, I don’t know, but it sure seems like there are a lot of opinions floating around out there about whether or not to make an outline for your book. It’s a dogma every bit as intrusive as an afternoon knock on your door from your friendly neighborhood Mormons JUST when you’re about to step into the shower, have sex, or crack open a beer.
“Do an outline! DO IT OR YOUR BOOK* WILL SUCK!”
I have one word for that (which I’m breaking into two words plus a bonus made-up vulgar compound word for emphasis):
What. Thefuck. Ever.
You know, I consider it a real miracle that my desire to write survived my years in academia. It almost didn’t. After I ran screaming from my freshman year Writing 101 class with my hair on fire (and my dreams of a being a journalist and best-selling novelist equally in flames thanks to one of the most evil professors ever to set foot into a classroom), I didn’t write more than grocery lists and emails for another seven years. Then I finally grew up and snapped the hell out of it, because I realized it was pretty stupid to let someone else’s misguided beliefs about me or the process of writing interfere with my art.
Why do I bring this up? Simple. Writing outlines takes me RIGHT back to those years of my life where writing was a chore, when it was an overly-structured, artless, joyless, rigid exercise not to get an F. Now that I’m a grown-up capable of making my own decisions with a (mostly) sound mind, I don’t write outlines. I will never write outlines. I would rather relive my freshman year Writing 101 class, alternating with being forced to watch episodes of Barney while rats nibble at my fingertips than to sully the joy of discovery that comes with writing fiction by pure instinct.
Writing outlines is like writing blueprints for intercourse. “First we will begin against this wall, where you will lift your leg at a 97 degree angle, at which point I will place my penis into you and proceed to thrust approximately 8.7 times before we move to the bed…” Does that sound like fun to you?
Wait…don’t answer that.
But again, that’s just me. That’s how my brain works. My brain also knows that the energy I spend with heavy outlining is energy that could be spent writing the actual story that is sitting up there in my imagination like a big overdue demon baby waiting to be born so it can eat the world’s face off. And you know those people who want to write, but continue to spin their wheels writing outlines or researching or otherwise “preparing” to write? I don’t want to be one of those people, because I’ve BEEN one of those people, and I’ve decided the best way to write a book is to just shut up and fucking write the thing.
To me, writing a story is a lot like jumping into the seat of a really awesome car (something sexy like an Audi R8 or a Bugatti Veyron), setting a few bulletpoint coordinates in my internal GPS for where I’d generally like to steer the thing, and then punching the gas and seeing where the road takes me. Sometimes, if I feel like I’m getting a little lost, I’ll pull over and take a brief look at a roadmap, but then I get back in the car and keep on driving.
(Or sometimes I douse the car with gasoline and set it on fire, but that’s another blog for another day).
That’s just my style, though. Maybe some of you reading this are feeling completely alienated, frightened and/or disgusted by my crudely ranty manner here, but that’s okay. Keep writing your outlines if that’s what works for you. But please don’t ever tell me that I NEED an outline. I need an outline like I need to be waterboarded or like I need the latest Justin Bieber album.
Writing is anarchy with words. There are no rules in this game, no authorial government body legislating methods of execution. There is only ONE rule when it comes to writing. And that’s just doing the actual writing. Do whatever you need to do to make it happen.
*I’m referring to fiction books here. Why? Because it’s what I know. I’m sure you’ll find equally impassioned rants on whether or not to outline your self-help books or unauthorized Snooki biographies.