The Outline That Wasn’t

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Notebook picI lack discipline.

Absolutely and incontrovertibly this is so. Exercise regimens, vows to eat vegetables, promises to keep track of my budget–all are beyond my capacity to fulfill.  I can’t commit.  Can’t stay committed. It’s not that I want to conform for the sake of conformity, or be admired for my ooh-la-la adult-ish behavior.  Honestly, I’d happily don my old combat boots, shave my head into a mohawk, and shout “Fuck that noise!” if it weren’t for the fact that I actually want the benefits of a disciplined mind.  (And that I suspect I have an unflatteringly shaped skull.)

Anyhow, I wish I was some Stephen King type, a holier than thou “I write every day no matter what” dickbag.  I want more than anything to be regular in my writing habits, because, as my jealousy no doubt gives away, I believe that structure and sitzfleisch are some of the keys to great writing.  The more you plan ahead, the more focused your mind, the tighter your story weaves together and the better your book.

With pain, with wailing, hair-tearing and tears, I’m learning to glue my tuchus to the chair (I once had a roommate in college literally tie me to my desk with twine while I was trying to write an essay), but even once there, my mind won’t think in straight lines.

Thus, the outline that wasn’t.  Merry’s novel (AKA Book  2) is a series of great ideas, vignettes, and sample chapters right now.  She’s coming along great as a character, and the theme of the story is clear in my mind.  I know most of the important turning points, and have a store of hijinks just waiting to deploy.  But whenever I try to write a chapter outline to get all my ducks neatly in a row, I just…


…go off on a tangent.  I get a few paragraphs in, determinedly denoting what makes each scene essential to the whole, delineating the important details, making decisions about what has to happen.  It’s incredibly helpful.  It clarifies concerns and opens doors, lays down the metaphorical railroad tracks ahead of my train of thought.  But then, just when I’m chugging along, I get a case of the “and then’s.”

You know: when you’re excited about an idea and you’re telling it to a friend, and you start spit-balling, and suddenly you’re saying, “and then… and then… a space cow flew outta the clouds and it started hurling plasma flops at everyone, and then… and then… um… Gary Oldman stepped up and whacked them with a cricket bat!  And then he saved the day, and then…”

Shit like that.

Next thing you know, your notebook has fifteen pages of Unibomber chicken scratch on it, with circles and arrows and a paragraph on the back of each one (points for knowing the reference there).  However, though you’re all fired up, you’re nowhere close to knowing exactly how you’re going to wedge cosmic cow flops and classically trained British actors into your story.  All you know is that you may as well just sit down and write a scene–any scene–and see where it leads you.

Because discipline ain’t leading me nowhere.  ‘Cept maybe the booby hatch.

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