…or the terrible thing, depending on your point of view: remember how I just posted some more writing advice? And I reflected, at relative length, about the value of outlining?
If you head over to the Intergalactic Medicine Show and read my friend Mette Harrison’s column about Writing Twisty Plots, you will find that she strongly advises against…wait for it…outlining.
So now, perhaps you are thinking, what the heck? Am I supposed to outline, or not?
It depends on what kind of writer you are.
See, for just about every piece of writing advice out there, you can find another piece that precisely contradicts it. (Except the one about how if you want to write, read. I don’t think anybody’s out there claiming that you can be a fabulous writer by keeping yourself pure and unsullied by exposure to anyone else’s work. And if there is someone saying that, don’t listen to them, because they are wrong.)
But anyway: the reason that you’ll find so much contradictory writing advice is that — unsurprisingly — writers do not all have the same writing process. Books that are shelved cozily next to each other in the bookstore or library may have been written in dramatically different ways. For example, Writer A is a devotee of notecards, maps, and timelines, while Writer B enjoys conquering the blank page and following the story where it takes her. Writer A arises at dawn and writes for two hours, religiously, before going to his day job. Writer B finds the loudest coffeeshop within biking distance, writes until she is too jittery to continue, then pedals furiously through the neighborhood musing about character motivation.
They both end up with beautifully bound books (although Writer A is still a little cranky about his cover design).
As silly as it sounds, I think the fact that all books look kind of alike as objects (you know, numbered pages, chapter headings, typically dark text on light-colored paper) can make it hard to see that the ways writers produce them are as different as we are.
Sometimes, writers even vary their process from book to book. What works for a contemporary realistic novel may not be as effective for a historical fantasy, for instance.
Okay, so how do I figure out what kind of writer I am?