Outlining (The Hardest Work)

My agent proposed turning three Antebellum books into one book (and eventually changing the name). Instead of charging in there and starting to cut and edit, I decided to do a complete outline of the new book.

One month later, I was still floundering.

Then, my good friend sjmaas insisted I set a deadline to complete the outline, and stick to it (she did hers in two full days *shake fist*). Will I make the deadline? Probably not. Did I learn some valuable lessons? Hell yeah.

Lesson 1: Don’t stop reading!

Recently I realized that I’d pretty much quit reading, period. I hadn’t even realized that I’d fallen off the reading wagon until I went to a family reunion in New York and used my Nook on the plane (I read The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo). At first the experience was crazy strange. I hadn’t read for pleasure in so long that I was having a hard time immersing myself in another world. I was hyper-conscious of the words on the page, like I was studying individual brushstrokes instead of seeing the whole painting.

That showed me how out of it I was.

Since then I’ve returned to the old, good habits: reading whenever I have a spare second. Thankfully I was gifted with a Nook earlier this year, and I haul it everywhere with me. I even read in the car at stoplights. (Right now I”m 1/4 way through Stephen King’s It. Reading It has been on my ‘Life To Do’ list for a while, so I’m thrilled).

Reading fiction is the surest way I know to jump-start my internal creativity. I can’t believe I ever stopped.

Lesson 2: Don’t stop brainstorming with CP’s!

I entered into the Outlining process alone, and for some reason I thought I had to keep at it alone. I forgot to reach out to my writer friend and CP’s to brainstorm and bounce ideas off them. Finally I broke down one night and asked my friend katzhang if I could discuss an idea with her… that led to another breakthrough in my story re-write, and showed me that I was seriously doing myself a disfavor by trying to come up with ideas all on my lonesome.

Lesson 3: Scribbling is helpful! For some reason I thought that Outlining as an activity was restricted to coming up with plot points and writing them down. This in itself has proven to be very difficult, and I found it was a lot easier to figure out how events would tie together if I scribbled down really, REALLY rough versions of scenes.

Writing the story down as I’ll eventually have to for-real write it showed me the path of emotions in my characters and made coming up with the following even a hundred times easier. Now I keep a notebook with me by my laptop so I can start sketching out scenes and speeches, which get condensed down into just a few sentences in the outline, but those are really important sentences.


Now that I’ve recorded those thoughts, I’ve got to dive back into it and make some more progress. I think I’ll start off with a little more notebook doodling…


12 thoughts on “Outlining (The Hardest Work)

  1. katzhang says:

    Yay! Go Savannah! :D I agree about reading being the best motivation to write. Whenever I read a really good book now, I know to have my current WIP open because I actually pause in between chapters to pound out a scene or something.

    Reading at stop lights…wow. That’s impressive, hehe. (this is from the girl who used to read in the shower as a child…) And I impressed you’re reading IT. I read CARRIE, but I’ll probably never read much horror. I’m waay too easily scared out of my wits, lol.

    Anyway, I’m glad things are progressing well!! And if you ever want to talk/hash things out more, I’m always happy to be a sounding board :D (one that gives random plot ideas, haha)

      • katzhang says:

        … I didn’t XP

        I was pretty young when I did that, and I only ever did it with really, really old books that I got from yard sales or library re-sales or whatever. But yeah. I have a collection of books with really wavy pages, hahahaha.

        I’m ashamed >.O

        • lalaith7 says:

          oh my goodness, that is so funny! I used to be a member of the reading while walking club, but most of the books I read are from the library so I can’t really read them in the shower, or throw them across the room in anger or whatnot.

    • savannahjfoley says:

      I get bored in the car really easily. I think I read Carrie… I do have to work hard to avoid getting freaked out. When I get tense I just slow down and remind myself to enjoy the work as a piece of art, as if I’m observing it, not actually participating.

  2. fatsoko says:

    You are brave. I can’t touch It for the life of me.

    The movie scarred me for life. I was way too young to laugh it off.

    I love the points you’ve made though. Reading is great.

    Scribbling is great. Don’t you find that the random scribbles later revisit you and just inspire you? It always feels like finding a lucky penny. :)

    • savannahjfoley says:

      The thing about me is that when something scares me, I seek it out and become its fangirl. It’s a weird form of Stockholm syndrome. But being a fangirl of something scary allows me to get excited when I see it, instead of scared.

  3. lalaith7 says:

    I have always struggled with what an outline really is and how best to do it so it was really nice to read this and realize that outlines have a little wiggle room to experiment and such. Thanks Savannah (it’s nice to hear from you again after what felt like quite a hiatus)

  4. Anonymous says:

    Great advice–especially on continuing to read! I hadn’t read just for fun in a while, and also found myself having trouble falling into the book’s world. Glad I’m not the only one who had that trouble…and I don’t intend to have it again!

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