How I Write Part 1: Outline

Over the years, I’ve read many books, articles, and websites about the writing process and how best to craft a story. The result is that my creative process is an amalgamation of these various sources and some things that I’ve found on my own that tend to work well.

What I want to cover here isn’t specific to the novel I’m writing for NaNoWriMo, but just what my approach is to creating a story. If you’re a writer, you may find this useful. If you’re not, then you might be idly amused. Whenever possible, I’ll give credit to my sources.

Before I get started I should point out that I am going to assume that you know how to tell a story. I’m not going to talk about three act story arcs or defining the narrative or any of that because really if you can tell a joke, you can tell a story and if you tell a story, then these tools will make that story better.

The first thing you have to understand is that outlining is your friend. When I first started writing, I loved that I had no idea where the story was going as I wrote it. It was exciting discovering with the characters what was going to happen. While, it was fun, it rarely led to great storytelling because if you don’t know where you’re going, you’ll never know when you get there.

I once attended a talk with mystery writer Earl Emerson. He said that in the beginning of his career, he’d write entire novels with no outline and no idea how they’d end when he’d start. And every one of them got rejected. After years of this, he decided to break down and do an outline. The first book he outlined, he sold.

There are those who would say all the writing before was a waste of time, but that’s simply not true. I believe the more you write the better you write regardless of what you’re writing. Writing a novel isn’t like building a house. It’s like a road trip. You need a destination. You need a road map. And you need to remember that the map is not the trip. Once you start, you’re still just as likely to find some surprises along the way. And that’s what makes the trip worth it.

-Jack

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