Blog Posts, Gayle's Gazette

Writing Outside the ‘Lines

Last summer, when my next book idea came to me, I sat down and filled two notebook pages full of notes and ideas, my first time doing this. Usually, I write without anything to follow. But since I was concurrently revising my second manuscript, I wanted to remember all my ideas. So I wrote them down. I’d never used a loose outline before. Figured I’d give it a try. But then…

Times Change

Several months later, when I was finally ready to write my story, I picked up the notebook and wrote following the ideas. And I used them for about 10,000 words in, approximately one-seventh of the book. But something was off. I just wasn’t feeling it. The tone was too serious. I wanted something more lighthearted. So I went back to the drawing board. Or, more aptly, another two blank pages of a notebook. This time, I jotted down what I envisioned writing––more of a romantic comedy genre rather than a family saga. Pleased with what I’d brainstormed, I set it aside again to give myself time to ruminate. I didn’t want to restart a third time. I wanted to be sure this time. And so, I waited. But then…

Save The Cat

While I chewed on my idea, someone recommended the book, Save the Cat Writes A Novel. This book teaches writers about the 15 essential plot points that make a novel successful. Never having read it before, I figured I’d give it a shot. I took notes, breaking down the pacing of a story and at which points certain things should happen. It all made perfect sense, especially after reading the examples applied to books and movies. They really do follow this particular pattern. Why not give it a try?

So I did. I took my second set of ideas and notes and created an outline using the Save the Cat template. It all made sense. It all fit perfectly. It all looked great on that paper. But then…

The Truth Revealed Itself

After having to set the book aside again for three months, this time due to medical reasons, I picked it back up last week and wrote. And wrote. And wrote. Without looking at the outline. Instead, it sat on my desk, buried under a pile of sticky notes covering it. I was, however, mindful of the pacing, ensuring that the plot and story were moving along. That I wasn’t spending too much time on one part. That I was creating tension. Creating relatable characters. Creating an engaging story. And it helped. But then…

Writing Outside the ‘Lines

I realized something: outlines are NOT for me. I know lots of great writers who swear by them. They wouldn’t dream of writing any other way. But not me. I’ve tried. Twice. But I’ve deviated from it not once but twice. And here’s the irony; I’m the most organized person. I like things in place. I need to follow directions. I need order. But clearly, that doesn’t apply to me in writing (stay tuned for another post regarding how messy and freeing writing is for me).

Throughout my school years, I was told to “color inside the lines.” And I did. But when it comes to writing, I’m tapping into my creative side and staying outside them. Far outside. Otherwise, I feel too confined and stifled. Thankfully, I don’t feel like I wasted my time creating that outline; I’m glad I did because now I know it’s definitely not for me––I like the story to tell me where it’s going, not me telling the story where to go. The mystery keeps me writing, just like I hope it will keep the reader reading.

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Blog Posts, Gayle's Gazette

The Mental Game

Shoulder surgery stopped me in my tracks. I was on a roll, nearly 10,000 words into my third manuscript. My first two? Written in less than three months. Not polished in three months, but the first draft, the heavy outline of the story (over 85,000 words heavy outline) completed in three months. But my current work in progress? Not even close. I’ve started and stopped numerous times. Once because I wanted to revise a different manuscript and query for an agent. Another is because I wanted to change this story’s tone. And now, it’s because of my shoulder.

Can I Do It Again?

The worst part of taking a break, whether by choice or forced, like having surgery, is getting back into it. The longer I go without writing, the less I think I can do it. My mind races day in and day out, especially while lying awake in the heart of the dark nights, that when I’m ready to start writing again, I’ll be incapable. I’ll have forgotten how to bring characters to life. I’ll have forgotten how to create tension. I’ll have forgotten how to engage the reader. Make the story exciting. Interesting. Fun. All of it. And that voice, the one creating fear, creating anxiety, creating uneasiness, makes it harder to start writing again. Because it screams, “Can I do it?”

The Plan

Although I am not 100% recovered, I’m recovered enough to start writing again. But my mind is at war with itself. Part of me is ready to get back to it, jump right in, put pen to paper. But the other part of my brain shouts negative thoughts, filling me with doubts. So here’s the plan:

  • Replace those negative thoughts with positive ones. For example, when I feel like I can’t do it, reassure myself, of course I can. I’ve done it twice before.
  • Talk to myself the same way I’d talk to a friend. I’d tell my friend she’s got this. She’s talented. Talent doesn’t disappear. She’s got this 100%!
  • Even if fear whispers or shouts, I’m going to dive in and start. Why? Because I’ve experienced this apprehension before. Every time I stop writing, take a break, for whatever reason, for any amount of time, this pesky voice rears its ugly head.

Reminders to Myself

When I get back to it, I need to remind myself that the first draft is just that. The first draft. Not the final product. Not the polished version that it will become one day. It’s messy. It’s disorganized. It’s rough. It takes a ton of work after it’s completed to make it shine. And as I read other books and think, “Wow, this author is so much better than me. S/he writes so eloquently. The story is amazing. Not a single solitary flaw it, I wish I could write that well,” I have to remind myself, said author’s first draft didn’t look like what I’m reading. There have been a plethora of revisions along the way. A lot of hours, possibly more than writing the first draft, have gone into polishing it into what it is today. Just like mine.

So although writing can be challenging, the mental game is more challenging. I need to get out of my headspace, for the anxiety about writing is more exhausting than the task itself. Just as it was the past two times. But despite my apprehension, I forged forward then, completing two polished manuscripts, all the while having fun. And I can and will do it again.