Yes or no?
I’ve asked a lot of writers this question, many accomplished and many not.
It’s a fifty-fifty split, roughly. The writers who use the outline tend to need it. The writers who don’t outline tend to despise the idea.
I was of the latter ilk until recently. I’ve rewritten my book three times. No outline. I don’t think the “no outline” is working for me. I’m not getting crazy with bullet points or roman numerals. I’m paraphrasing what happens in each chapter. This has helped me flush out the story, which is what I struggle with. I can write pretty sentences and compelling scenes, but they never go anywhere. The outline helps me figure out how to move the story forward, find plot holes, character flaws, keep track of characters and make sure that all the moving pieces are where I want them. It’s a helpful tool and I think it will give me more freedom to write the story without worrying if the story is working. I’m sure an editor will eviscerate it someday, but at least I’ll feel good about handing to and editor.
It’s not fun for me to write an outline. That’s a problem. I like things that are fun and I don’t like to do things that are not fun. Christ, I rewrote my novel three times instead of tackling the outline. The word, “outline” makes me cringe. It’s simplistic, I know. It’s a difficult truth that I must face. Learning how to do the not-so-fun stuff is what separates the hobbyist from the professional. I’m learning, and I like to learn.
A necessity that invites pain.
I need it, thrive off of it. It might be a sickness, but it works.
It’s fuel. With writing comes rejection. A friend of mine actually said something a couple of weeks ago that has stuck with me, “Managing expectations is important.” There are very few truer words.
It’s important to remember that with rejection comes acceptance. It make take one hundred rejections, but when that acceptance comes knocking there is no better feeling. I read the letter/email (only email really), dance the jig on top of my roof, smile and think nothing in life can go wrong. It’s Glorious. This lasts about a day, and then I fall into managing my expectations again.
I expect to win, be successful and take the literary world by storm… someday. Right now, I manage my expectations, take rejection on the chin like a champ and push forward. Another friend called me a mensch. I’ll take it.
Rejection is just an obstacle on the course of life. I put it to writing because that is the path I have chosen, but whenever we put ourselves out there we are open to the demon of rejection. Either live with it and push forward or fear it and do nothing. In the end, you’ll know what worked for you and what didn’t.
Go out there and get rejected. You’ll survive and feel stronger for it.
With time, the seed of envy can grow into a weed. Maybe this metaphor is the impetus for the saying, “green with envy.” Not likely.
I used to get it bad. When I had to work and my friends would head to the mountain without me on a fresh powder day, or the waves were good and my buddies went for a surf and I had to work. I’m shallow, or maybe simple. But I’m not simple when that weed of envy grows into resentment and disdain for responsibility. I get complicated and grumpy, and regress into adolescence.
Not to mention Social media — the envy machine. It used to get me bad when I’d see videos of professional surfers and snowboarders flying through waist deep fresh snow or catching perfect waves in some far off tropical climate. It would hit me in the gut when my feed populated with friends and family having fun in Europe, Asia, Mexico, Nicaragua or Colorado. I’ve deleted Instagram, Facebook and Twitter from my phone about four times in the past two years. Then, at some point this year, I finally decided that I was being silly. I’m an adult and I need it for work. So, self-discipline. It’s tough. Some days are easier than others, but for the most part I can manage my social media time.
Nowadays, I catch envy before those damn seeds take root. But It’s also important for me to recognize the social media monster for what it is. Not real. In fact, a contrived reality. How many people stop fighting to pose in front of the perfect backdrop or pause an argument to take a selfie? How many professionals suffered through terrible conditions to get the one two-minute take to post on their feed? I don’t know. But I do know what I’m seeing on social media are moments in a day, a full day with a spectrum of situations and moments. I’m glad people can stop arguing for a smile at the camera. I respect the professionals who go out there and suck it up on terrible conditions for a solid shot so they can get a bit of a payday from their sponsor. It doesn’t always work, this positive spin, but I’m trying.
I occasionally remind myself that I live in one of the few places in the world where I can go snowboarding in the summer and drive to the beach for a surf all in one day — if I want. I just need to make time to do it. So goes the dance.
Authority makes this villain dangerous.
You know who I’m talking about. There is one in everybody’s life. For the most part, these people were bullied as kids. They are angry, sad people. So, in part I feel bad for them — but that’s as far as it goes. I waste no calories with concern for their wellbeing.
Hating this person, attacking this person or trying to help this person is more than a waste of time, it will hurt you, take time from your precious day. This person is an emotional vampire who wants nothing more than to rule the roost. They make everyone who they interact with miserable and afraid.
They abuse authority, contribute nothing of importance to society and create struggle for everyone else. Life is already full of struggle, so the adult bully can go extinct for all I care. Which I think can happen. With the access to information we have now, I think that people will evolve out of being like this. Regardless, these are fools we must suffer sometimes. It’s an unfortunate fact of life. There are just awful people in the world. Maybe they just need a hug — I probably won’t be the one to give it to them.
Some insight on how to deal.
A honey trap.
It’s helpful, wild and wonderful when the sparks of inspiration fly. Creativity and motivation move through you with elegant perfection. The feeling can be transcendent. Lean back, absorb the endorphin rush and hopefully be inspired again.
What about after the dust settles and the haze of inspiration is gone? The work still needs to happen. Whether it’s a creative endeavor, exercise or a work project, if you don’t do the work the inspiration that got you there means nothing. Inspiration comes when it comes. You can’t depend on it.
I used to depend on it, until I got serious. I’d like to say I can push through the tough times without wishing for inspiration, but I’m not there yet. I missed a blog post last week, I didn’t work on my novel and no short stories were submitted. Life got complicated and I let it get in the way of what I love to do. What happened my mind and my spirit was interesting, maybe even inspirational. I got depressed. Not severely, but life had no vigor, greens were less green and reds were less red. If I’m sticking with the color metaphor, I was blue.
Creativity needs inspiration, but can’t live on such a fleeting concept. Work is the purveyor, and part of what work means is getting through the many uninspired moments. It’s bleak, I know, but it’s reality. I try to recognize inspiration and ration it, use small amounts until it wears off. For example, after a writer’s retreat or conference, I used to come home and blast off with wild abandon; but the rush of being inspired wore off quick. Now, I try to recognize the inspiration and use the tools I have acquired to control the drip. I know it’s nuts, but that’s how I view it.
“That voice in our heads is not us. It is Resistance.”
Blind faith in my creative process gets me through the rough patches. Sometimes my fingers feel like anvils, and each attempt at a keystroke is mentally excruciating. I look at the words on the page, my characters, the story, and I hate it. A not so quiet voice in my head tells me its crap, it’ll take too long, I won’t succeed, blah, blah. It’s noise — a construction zone of chaos in my dome, looking for excuses to stop working, get angry and quit.
I’m too persistent. I don’t know how to quit. If this were easy I wouldn’t be doing it, so I relax, step back and see the big picture.
To say a novel is difficult to write is silly because, to me, it’s seemingly impossible. If the novel were a mountain and the process were the climb, then I’ve been climbing for years without seeing the top. I just have to believe the top is there. It’s that simple and that difficult. I might be nuts, yeah, I know. But, so what. We are all nuts in some way. If you think you aren’t nuts then you are probably crazier than most, and that’s okay too.
In times like this, I tell myself to settle down, take a step back and appreciate other things. Family, the sun, the ocean. Awareness of the simple things helps me reset. I like to look at life in the present and let the good soak in, but it ain’t easy.
A persistent villain.
When it comes to writing, I’ve been called a grinder. Talent lurks in the shadows, but mainly I work my ass off. I’m persistent, I take criticism on the chin and push forward. I’m teachable and determined to succeed. This hasn’t come easy. I’m not known for self-discipline.
I learned late in life that I can’t just snowboard, surf, party, go to work and all will be right with the world. I didn’t party so much, but man did I get good at surfing and snowboarding. To this day I stave off the adolescent who wants to stay up late, eat cheesecake, binge watch an awesome show, leave my dishes in the sink and still have life be awesome. It’s sad but true. Now, I self-parent.
I work from home. No one is putting me on a deadline, telling me what to do or checking in on my progress. It’s all me. I’m getting better at it, but I know I can get good at it. When I keep that in mind, I persist. Small accompliments, like publishing a short story, are victories — a positive feedback loop telling my subconscious that the discipline I have self inflicted is working.
Waking up every day to grind out a story, not knowing where it will lead, is Sisyphean. Although Sisyphus’s chore was a punishment from The Gods, it fits in the metaphor of what I do every day. Wake up, feed kids, get kids to school, come home, write, exercise (sometimes), pick up from school, make dinner, go to bed, repeat. At the end of the day I can say that life is pretty good, discipline is just a part of it.