Veronique Darwin

I did something called Outlining

In My Writing on October 21, 2013 at 10:06 pm

It’s what I always thought you did when you were sober. I write only when I’m drunk. I write on waves of emotion and euphoria that are akin to, or aided by, the feelings that alcohol also give me. But outlining, that’s a systematic task. That’s logic and math and cups of coffee. I thought I couldn’t do it, then last night I sat down and did it.

I outlined 24 scenes: my whole novel. It’s a novel I’ve written several drafts of (it’s the novel on which this blog is named), but all of a sudden it was like I met it again at a party. I forgot that once it had charmed me enough to fall in love with it. I forgot I loved the thing.

The outlining became a drinking process. I had a beer and I lay down on my front on my bed for one point five hours and I wrote those 24 scene outlines. They say some things that are less outliney than others: “Jillian in Paris recap” doesn’t solve much, but a whole page webbed around the centre “Jillian wants” did help me find a plot structure that was before not as clear. I know now the concrete things she goes up against, while before I was riding on a feeling. She is trapped! I yelled. She needs to break free! I had the feeling of my book. I notice now I didn’t have the outline.

You may think that this outlining business came out of nowhere. No, it came out of two and a half years of avoidance and then a weekend at the Whistler Writers Festival where I heard enough people talk smack about not outlining that I thought I would give it a go. Never did I think that one and half hours later I would have something that (albeit having not yet reread it) feels like a book.

People keep asking me (sometimes people ask me) really cluelessly about what part of my novel I am at. I always explain that it is a fifth draft, meaning that I’ve rewritten the book five times, then I explain I am at Chapter Two of this revision. That I have not changed this exact explanation for a long time might be a better way of explaining where I am at in my novel. I am at a stagnation, caused undeniably by the fact that I am now working full-time in a job that has the ability to take over a life, but also by a slight laziness.

I define my laziness this way: the more I am efficient and disciplined in everyday tasks, the less I see the need to discipline myself, thereby creating an overconfidence that outweighs any nagging feeling that I am not doing my all.

So here we are with an outline, which is nothing if it does not serve as a Platonic image for something real. So I created a word processing document titled “Draft Six Scene 24” and checked Facebook. I closed it and created a word processing document titled “Draft Six Scene 1” and closed it. A cat sat on my lap and I checked the news (that’s a lie!) then I started writing.

I am now two pages in to what is going to be a complete rewrite. I’m going to do it and I’m going to do it straight through, like I dropped my novel in the fire. Like I dropped my novel in the fire and I was so drunk (think Hemingway! think whisky!) that instead of sobering up and writing an outline, I just wrote my novel straight through again. And I will depend on this feeling I had when I first wrote it, that love-at-first-sight feeling, to carry me and it through and keep us together. When I get to the bumps, I’ll have a road map to help me trace back my steps and find where I got lost. But I’ll take the same philosophy to my outline as I do to a road map: what’s the fun in knowing all the right turns when I can make all the wrong ones and still get there okay, too overconfident to ever admit I didn’t know my way all along.


  1. Many people suggest that writing an outline is wrong, that it is too constrictive, that there is a danger that the plot drives the characters and not the other way around. Much of this is right, especially for those writers who promote this idea.
    I wrote my first novel with an outline and plan to do the same with my second, however I also gave my characters the freedom to react naturally to events, and if that meant going back and re-working the outline to adapt, that’s what I did.
    It seems to me that by the fifth draft, you know your characters well. This should mean that your outline reflects their behaviour based on sound knowledge, as opposed to a desire for them to reach a certain plot point.
    The key thing to remember is that if it works for you, it’s the right way, whatever that happens to be.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: