More writing advice

From a recent email:

“I can never seem to finish a book. I will be the concept of what I want to write, I’ll be over a hundred pages in, and either lose interest or forget what I wanted to write. My friends adviced me to make an
outline, of the ideas, but I don’t want to limit myself, and I never seem to have enough time to write.”

First off, getting over a hundred pages written is great. You’ve accomplished something right there.

And I can understand not wanting to limit yourself, but there’s a difference between limiting yourself and not knowing the story you want to tell. An outline doesn’t need to be a prison — think of it more like a trellis that your lovely story vines can twine around. If you don’t have an idea where you’re aiming, how your characters will change, it becomes hard to recognize what “finishing” would even look like.

I am a reluctant convert to outlining. For the longest time, I would just start writing, with some vague ideas of character and setting, and see what happened. Here is the sad truth: usually, what happened was not much. I’d get some interesting scenes, maybe, some amusing dialogue — but overall, it would feel directionless. Because it was.

I am not saying that outlining is easy. It’s like making a map of a country you haven’t visited, based on descriptions from pathological liars.

But it’s worth it. And here is a secret: you don’t have to follow your outline precisely! When I outlined Rules, I included a bunch of scenes that never made it into the book. But the outline gave me a sense for where I wanted the characters to be, by the end.

As for not having time for writing: what are you having time for instead? I’m not asking that to scold. Take a good look at what you’re spending your time doing, and then ask yourself: how much can you write, considering your other priorities? If there’s a large gap between what you can realistically do and what you’re expecting yourself to do, you have two choices: change your priorities or change your expectations. This isn’t easy, either. But it’s necessary.

The same correspondent also asks:

“I also never want it to sound cheesy gay/lesbian books, but I’m not the most experienced on male/female relationships and when I
write about it, it comes off….two girls?”

I absolutely wouldn’t worry about this. If the relationships you’re most confident in writing about are between girls, write them! Also, it might help to figure out exactly what defines ‘cheesy’ for you, and then you can attempt to avoid that quality in your own writing.

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  • Kayla Marshall
    March 3, 2009 at 9:02 am

    Thank you, starting college in the fall is stressful. When I went to class the first day; just to see if I even wanted this class, he told me, “Writting is easy. You can put down anything and call it writting. But composing art, now that is hard” he also went on to tell me that his class will be that hardest class I’ve ever taken, but editors are not nice.

    Thank you for the advice. <3.

  • Sara
    March 3, 2009 at 10:21 am

    Hey, you’re welcome Kayla. Also, here is a funnier take on obstacles to writing, from Tom Gauld:


  • Booktin
    March 5, 2009 at 5:58 pm

    Wow, really great advice – easpecially the time stuff – it’s so easy to fill your time with nothing instead of doing what you have to! def going to bookmark this