On Deviating From Your Outline (and why you should do it)

Writing is an art form, an extension of our vibrant imagination put into the written word. Writing is a artistic expression of ourselves, our thoughts, our feelings, where the turn of a phrase can excite an audience and a fictional character can tug at our hearts. There should be no doubt that the art of writing is intertwined with an author’s muse, inspiration, and creativity.

But when a writer first conceives of a story, what does he/she do? Create an outline of course! But when we generate outlines, we are putting our story into a box. Albeit, the author pours his/her creativity into the outline, but I fear that for some the creativeness of their ingenuity stops there.

As a writing exercise, try thinking of an alternative plot point from what you currently have planned, and begin outlining the events that would occur from this new pivot point in your novel. Then compare the two story paths (original vs. new); which one was better for you?

I recently did this and was thrilled with the results! My original outline didn’t capture all the particular details that lead up to Chapter 9, so upon my arrival at this point in my story, I realized my characters were stuck. There was now an obstacle that wasn’t there in my outline. I was forced to improvise – and that is when I had this epiphany!

The more I write, the more I favor organic character development – and by extension: story development. I am usually a big planner, down to every detail, so I know how important story outlines are, but now I try to keep my outlines at a high level so that I won’t stifle my creativity as I write.

Tips for Writing a Novel While Working a Full-Time Job

The largest and most critical issue that impacts one’s ability to write a novel is time. So when you hold down a full-time job and have a family, making your commitment to writing can be difficult to say the least. In addition, we all know that both reading and writing every day increases our skill, however, what if you don’t have time to do both? In my case, I work on average 45-50 hours a week, I go to grad school at night two days a week, I have homework, tests to study for, projects and research papers, plus I have a wife and two little girls. There isn’t time to both read and write in a single day; I must choose one or the other. So I’ve come up with some helpful tips to share with others about how I’ve found the time to write a novel.

First, wanting to write a novel requires raising it up on your list of priorities. Trying to find time to write everyday will be especially challenging if it has to compete with all the other activities and past-times that you would rather do. If that isn’t enough, try asking yourself, “What are you willing to sacrifice to be able to do all the things that you want to do in a day?” For me, I sacrifice sleep. I only do 6 hours a night.

Second, do everything you can to mobilize your writing. I use the free CloudOn app on my iPad to edit Microsoft Office docs that I keep in Dropbox/SkyDrive. I also made the move to a Windows Phone because it has Microsoft Office built in, and can edit docs stored in SkyDrive. All of these things have helped me to capture my thoughts as soon as I have them, and allow me to utilize any downtime (like waiting in a doctors office) toward making progress on my novel. Alternatively, if mobilizing your writing isn’t for you, then bring a book with you wherever you go (digital or print) and use the downtime throughout your day to read as much as possible.

Third, set a realistic expectation for yourself. Think about how much you should be writing a month. Do you know what your average word count is for your chapters? Do you know what your estimated word count for your novel is? 50,000? 70,000? 100,000? Try to do the math so that you can finish your novel within a year or less.

Words Per Year Goal Words Per Month Words Per Week Words Per Day
60,000 5000.0 1153.8 164.4
70,000 5833.3 1346.2 191.8
80,000 6666.7 1538.5 219.2
90,000 7500.0 1730.8 246.6
100,000 8333.3 1923.1 274.0

Fourth, just write. Don’t self-edit until the end. Get the words onto the page so that you can flush out the entire story. Save editing and revisions for later.

Here’s a Writer’s Digest article that adds some other suggestions: 5 Ways to Maximize Your Time  

The Long Road toward becoming Published

As a fantasy writer, I recently joined the Mythic Scribes forum boards to solicit advice regarding this purgatory state of being in-between having completed a novel and awaiting publication that I currently find myself in. This dead zone, if you will, could cause authors to get confused about what they should be focusing on during this time. For example, while I am waiting to hear word back from literary agencies, I focused a lot of my time toward developing my synopsis – which would be a necessary item for querying more agents/publishers in the future. The advice I received from the community of fantasy writers on the forum board really set me on a path forward that I think will help any authors that are also walking down the long road toward traditional publishing.

Like many others, I usually want closure from all the places that I’ve submitted, so I’ve really exercised my patience when waiting for a response. However, in this industry, literary agents are so overwhelmed that sometimes a non-response is your answer. Unfortunately, that has become a reality in this industry. For this one reason, it is important to not stay stagnate as an author. Just keep writing because you don’t want to misuse the time that you have.

In addition, if an agent/publisher does contact you after a long while, often times they are curious as to what other finished work or work in progress (WIP) you can show them. And if it has been a while since you submitted to them, hopefully you at least have a WIP that you can discuss. But if your answer is, “I’ve rewritten my synopsis three times,” that’s not going to cut it. So the lesson here is: Don’t get caught with your pants down. Having more work prepared is never a bad thing. It proves that you are serious as a writer and that you are ahead of the game.

I still need to rewrite my synopsis, but the community’s words of wisdom have really got me motivated toward writing my sequel. Hopefully, it will do the same for you too.