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  • Writer's pictureMaggie Eliot

Holy Shit! I Wrote an Outline! (sort of)

Updated: Jan 9, 2020

I'm working on something new and I just got to that point where the initial blush of inspiration has run its course and I have to make some plot decisions. Structure is a real weakness for me. I am an improviser. I want to tell the story as it unfolds and then go back and see if it makes any sense. It's like being a documentary filmmaker, shooting a bunch of material and sorting it out later. I am the very definition of a pantser and the idea of organizing plot points before going forward makes me gaggy and nervous. I'm a free and creative spirit! I don't want to be constricted by planning, bound by an outline. I need to flow and fly!

And yet, tonight I found myself outlining the rest of the book. I'm on chapter six and I had so many ideas I wanted to fit in but hadn't put them in order. I opened a document just to jot down all of the ideas and then started to shuffle them around. Once they were in the proper progression, they all seemed to flow together and support each other, rather than being a collection of scene ideas that were separate, but interesting. I even discovered a couple of pretty great conflict points that would push the plot on. Suddenly the list of ideas was a plan for the rest of the book and I had had my first dabbling into being a plotter.

The experience reminded me of how we'd use note cards to determine the running order of scenes back in my sketch days. I miss the collaborative spirit of that, working together to see what scenes might tie into others. Some of the biggest creative "Aha!" moments I've been a part of have happened in front of a spread out stack of cards with scene names on them. It's a reminder that all creative experiences you have are relevant and useful in your career. Something that had been a formative learning experience in my 20's (structuring a sketch show scene by scene) directly translated to my approach as an author in my 40's. Kinda cool.

Now I can't promise I'm a convert. I'm coming to realize that my entire approach to life is related to my improviser-ness. If I have to speak somewhere for work or if I'm teaching, I never plan what I'm going to say down to the word. There's a magic (sorry for that word, but it's true) in the right now that you can miss if you're thinking about five minutes from now. I want my work to have some of what I crave in life; honesty, connection, and being in the now. The writing experience is the same for me. Most of the time, I want to type the scene I'm improvising in my head. No edits, no overthinking.

But this time, the book decided it wanted more. So at least for this particular project, I'm going to be a hybrid.

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