B efore you go off and waste months and even years on 400 pages that took a bad turn and went down the wrong path, first make an outline.
That’s right, make an outline!
I usually hear a lot of grumbling when I suggest this to aspiring writers.
“Are you joking? What about inspiration, free association, the liberating muse, the never-ending story that has characters with lives of their own?”
Flying blind is not recommended
Sure, but…that’s not the way it usually happens. Flying blind is not recommended, especially for the inexperienced. Tom Robbins or Toni Morrison may have an infallible inner rudder but most of us mortals don’t have that kind of genius. We need to plan, then check out what we’ve done and plan it better.
Figure out the plot up front
In my experience working with very good and up-and-coming novelists, figuring out the plot up front is enormously useful.
These outlines are not for publication, just for self-reference and, if you’re lucky, professional feedback from a free-lance or publisher’s editor. They’re not carved in stone, but can evolve as you go along, and may ultimately be heavily changed. But they give you a chance to make sure the succession of ideas, elements of the plot, and stages of a character’s development are all included and make sense.
Same is true for non-fiction
I consider non-fiction another form of narrative, of story-telling, truth telling and education perhaps, but requiring form, focus, and structure nonetheless.
And as my colleague Chris Webb has pointed out, non-fiction outlines that consider all there is to say on a topic can inspire supplemental resource and training materials that can be produced separately from the actual book.
Overcome your resistance
So overcome your resistance to being pinned down to a tentative plan, and make an outline. It’s worth the trouble, believe me.