Outline the Ending! Really?

I’ve been inundated with those Master Class video ads on social media lately. I’m sure you’ve seen them, and I have to admit, some of them certainly catch my eye. I was real curious to see what Ron Howard and Martin Scorsese said about film-making, and even their introductory videos were quite engaging.

Of course, there’s a bunch of well-known writers on there as well, and I am, as a writer, interested to hear what they have to say. I like to keep my options open. I like to learn and grow in my craft, but whenever someone says how important it is to do this or that when being a creative writer, I usually balk at it and tell them to slow down the bus!

Writing is different from film-making or some of the other arts because it’s so subjective. There’s no one formula. There’s no “best practices” which will insure success. Sure, there are some writing guidelines which may help, especially for young writers, but blanket statements are not that helpful.

One well-known writer on the Master Class videos said how important it is to outline. You must outline, outline, outline like crazy. Outline until the cows come home. Outline through all your holidays. Outline until you’re blue in the face, or until the next season of your favorite show comes out. OUTLINE!!!! Okay, I might be paraphrasing here.

But the point is, this particular writer emphasized how important outlining is. And in reply to that, I say hogwash!

It might be important to you. It’s obviously important to him. It’s not important to me. Now you might think to naturally side with him because he’s famous and rich and I’m not. That’s a valid point. But if I may, I content his outlining obsession has nothing to do with his success.

Here’s the problem I have with outlining. For me, it’s basically useless, because by the time I  hit the third chapter of my outline, the rest of my outline has no validity because I’ve changed the story so much since my original ideas.

Why?

Simple! Writing leads to new ideas. New writing leads to newer ideas. To think you can sit down and know the ending of a creative story before you actually start writing is rather preposterous. That’s like chaining yourself in and not allowing your ideas to grow as your story grows.

So if you do outline, I’d offer this advice. Don’t let the outline be the ultimate driver of where your story is going. Use it as a guide, but as your ideas develop, please feel free to change your outline. Please feel free to change your ending!

Just today, I completely revamped an ending to a play which I thought I had finished yesterday. But it wasn’t sitting right for me, so I had to go back and change it.

Now, with all that said, it doesn’t mean that I never outline. I do loosely outline at times when I think I see where the story is going. For example, on my new fiction trilogy, I do know the ending of book three. But I only know the ending because I already wrote book 1 and 2. When I was writing book 1, I didn’t even know how it would end. But now that I’ve written 2/3’s of the trilogy, it has become obvious to me what the ending must be. Great! No problem!

My ultimate point here is that there is not one correct way to write. It’s so personal and subjective. Do what you are comfortable with. Follow your passion and your story. Allow it mold and form what you want to say. Never allow preset guidelines to determine where your story must go.

You know where it’s supposed to go. It’s in your heart. You were made for this moment. Create and discover what you never thought possible.

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Thriving with multiple writing projects

One of the most useful writing methods that I use is to have many different writing projects open and moving forward at the same time.

I can see how this methodology might drive some writers mad. For me, however, I thrive in the messy realm of multiple stories and even multiple genres. What, in my estimation, are the advantages of such a messy model?

  • What’s writer’s block? When you have five ideas going all at once, it’s not hard to keep going on at least one of them.
  • Boredom, away! A writer can, at times, get bogged down in the minutia of a story and you just need a change of pace. The other day, I went from doing some hard work thinking on my new novel to writing a silly play about fruit. It was a delightful change which will bring forth a bountiful harvest of renewed vigor for my novel when I get back to it.
  • Accomplishment is something. A novel is a long process. I usually write one over a 2-3 month period if I have minimal interruptions. But it can take many, many more months to write it if it ends up being a weekend project because of other work commitments. This is where a second writing gig is helpful. I can write a first draft of a short play in two hours or so. That means during those long and unfruitful novel months when I’m waiting for a large chunk of time to write it, I can still FINISH something. And let’s now lie, here. Writers LOVE to finish things. You know the old writer’s quote – “I hate writing, but I love to have written.”
  • Press pause to refresh your ideas. Walking away from one piece of writing for a while is beneficial. Ideas need to stir. More input from the world will lead to new and better ideas. But walking away from a piece of writing doesn’t mean you need to walk away from writing altogether. No way. That’s where a secondary or tertiary project is of the utmost help.

I am a little at the extreme end of the spectrum when it comes to multiple writing projects. Perhaps for you only one additional project would work, but for me, there’s nothing like twelve things to think about at once. Here’s a few of the things I’m currently working on:

  • pre-writing on book three of my new trilogy
  • writing a series of 8 short plays to form my new drama show “Crazy Love”
  • 1 historical based musical is on the back-burner
  • 2 full-length plays that I have started but plan to finish in the next couple of weeks

Don’t worry. There’s more. But I’ll keep it there for now. How about you? You like having multiple projects at once?

 

What is Writing Success?

When does a writer know when he or she is successful?

Being “a writer” has certain connotations and sometimes embedded tangible requirements. Does he make a living from writing? Is her work critically acclaimed? Is he well-known? Does she garner respect from other writers? Do other people ask him to write? Is her author rank on Amazon within the top few thousand? Can a book release produce excitement? Does she have book signings? Has he won awards for his craft? Does she work tirelessly to improve?

Surely, these are all requirements of being a ‘real’ writer.

But, alas, no, that’s not it. It’s much simpler. It’s more personal. It’s more subjective.

Being a writer is about having the confidence within where one feels they know what they are doing but remain wise enough to know how foolish a thought like that is. Despite always wondering if what is written is any good, he or she keeps on writing.

For the first 30+ years of my life, I had the heart of a writer, yet I was not one. I was a person who made excuses about my writing, which mainly never occurred. I focused on my weaknesses and the strengths of the real professional writers. Strangely enough, the gap between my weaknesses as a writer and a highly respected writer’s strength was vast. That’s what I was focusing on, and it made writing seem like an impossible task. There was a gulf of separation too wide, so I  figured I might as well not try.

I’m ten years beyond that type of foolish thinking. Do I still have writing weaknesses? Oh yes. I think I’ve even discovered more that I didn’t know existed. But now, I don’t look at the big guys in awe and lament that I will never be like them. I have learned to feel comfortable in my own shoes. I have unique experiences and unique bouts of creativity which are vastly different from others.  I have something to say, and that’s enough.

Sure, I like a good review or an award or honor just like the next writer. It certainly can stroke a writer’s ego and boost one’s confidence.

But good reviews or awards or a certain threshold of downloads does not a writer make.

A writer is simply someone bold enough to admit that he or she is one.

Once you can overcome that hurdle, you can be successful, and you can write in peace.

Don’t Underestimate Your Writing

Don’t underestimate your writing.

I learned this lesson recently. It was late December, and the submission window for entering a script in a theatre festival in New York was rapidly approaching. It was a festival that produced one of my plays in 2017 — my first ever production in New York City. It was a big deal to me.

Since I had a modest, one-year history at the festival, I wanted to submit again for the 2018 version. But I ran into an issue. What script? Last year it was an easy decision. It was a script I really liked. It was about issues current in the news. It was timely, funny, and profound at the same time. I thought it was one of my best, so I was delighted when it was chosen.

But for this year, I just felt like I didn’t have a script that was as good as 2017. I hemmed and hawed and eventually decided, on a whim, to send off a script I had written a while back but never did anything with it. I re-polished it and sent it off before the December 31 deadline.

I had no expectations.

Then it happened. Earlier this week I received an email from the theatre in New York saying they loved the script I sent and wanted to produce it for their June festival. I was shocked. They loved the script? They chose the script? I had no idea that it would have been chosen.

After this happened, I read it over with another person, and this person told me how much she liked the script. Suddenly, it was starting to grow on me. A script I thought was just “ok” was really not that bad. I started seeing it for its uniqueness, its quirkiness, its unusual story. It started sounding funny to me as I read it and …

What’s going on?

Suddenly, the simplest of principles once again smacked me in the forehead–everyone has a different perspective. This is not something new. I know this. As a novelist whose novels have been reviewed by many individuals, I know that each person brings their own take and opinions when assessing a creative work. I’ve seen them all–“Brilliant” and “I couldn’t finish it.”

So I learned a lesson: just get the work out there!

It may be liked more than you think. It may have hidden potential that you can’t see. It may also fall flat on its face. But I’d rather have it fall flat on its face than live a digital death on some hard drive.

Guess what I’ve been doing this week? Sending more of my plays and writings to various contests around the world. Nothing may become of any of them. But you never know until you try.

Don’t underestimate your own writing. Put in the time, give it all you got, then release it to the wind and let it float where it may.

 

 

A Writer on Pause No More

I’m a writer.

But it’s not what buys the bread and puts kids through college. For that, I am also a teacher.

But the best part of being a teacher and writer is, of course, summer. Summer is when I can hit the resume button and become a full-time writer again. I am at that blissful part of my year as I currently write this. Writing happiness has returned once again.

I’ve had the most wonderful writing routine the past three days, and it looks sustainable for the next month or so. I carve out of my day about three hours to sit alone with my laptop, immersed in my thoughts, and punch out as much coherent dialogue and description that I can during that time frame. Then I pack it up, get back to family time, cook some dinner, and ponder where my next writing episode the following day will take me.

Three hours is typically the maximum amount of time that I can concentrate on writing. Sometimes only two depending on how the chapter is coming together. By the time I reach the two or three hour mark, I’m ready for a break. I need to allow what I have written to sink in my brain and make sure it is exactly where I want to take the story. I don’t like to get too far ahead of myself. Three steps forward. The next day, I’ll backtrack and re-read what I wrote. Edit and revise. Check and double-check, and then plow on to the next chapter or segment. When I get to do this this everyday for two or three hours, I can make a lot of headway, and within a month, I can have a solid outline for a complete novel.

I’m currently working on book 2 of my first trilogy. I’m already over the 42,000 word mark while cruising into the latter half of the book. I’m having a blast with this story and can’t wait to see where it will take me.

A summer where the pause button is no more. The pedal is to the metal. Full speed ahead. It’s exciting. Stay tuned.

How about you? How do you carve out time for writing?

You Should Tolerate Bad Writing

I’m not a perfectionist. As a writer, this can be a disadvantage. I’m confident there have been times when I could have improved a piece with one more revision or one more re-write. But I must admit, I become bored and just want it to be over so I can get on to my next creative idea.

On the other hand, not being a perfectionist as a writer has its distinct advantages. One of those has to do with the writing process and that enigmatic term we like to call writer’s block. I’m not completely convinced that writer’s block actually exists. Sure, there may be times of uncertainty where one needs to put in the requisite amount of thinking before it becomes clear where a plot should go or how a character should act. However, I do think that, perhaps, sometimes writer’s block is just not be willing to tolerate bad writing.

We have good days. We have bad days. Sometimes the words are clicking with clarity and ease, the phrasings are coherent and the descriptions vivid. Other times every single sentence is a chore and when you look back over your last paragraph, you realize that a second grader could have sounded so clever. When that happens, it’s precisely the moment that you need to be tolerant of bad writing.

In 2002, I started my first novel. The writing was so bad that I stopped on the second page. It took me 10 more years until I finally finished my first novel.

I couldn’t tolerate bad writing. Therefore, I paid for it, languishing away in non-writing pursuits.

Recently, I was working on a section of my new novel and that self-criticism reared its ugly head: this isn’t particularly good. But I made a decision to move on. I didn’t care if it wasn’t good, I told myself, it will eventually BE good.

That’s the key. Bad writing doesn’t necessarily need to remain bad writing. I’ve come across parts of my manuscripts in the past which are terrific and then I’ll reach a section which is quite less than great. I’ve learned to appreciate these sections. For one, I’m happy I can recognize bad writing when I see it. Two, I appreciate the fact that I motored through a bad writing session because it does help further the story. It’s much easier to rewrite and improve a poorly worded section than it is to come up with a completely new section.

Bad writing should be embraced. It’s one of the backbones for good writing. Don’t get discouraged when the words aren’t flowing. Keep moving forward, even if you have to use your 2nd grade vocabulary. On revision day, I’m sure you’ll be glad you have something to work with.

Writing a Trilogy, or is it a Three Part Story

I’ve mentioned before how I am working on my first trilogy. My first five novels were standalones and I’ve always felt that standalones are more interesting reads because, well, they have a tight arc and a thrilling finish. I’ve never been one for built-in cliffhangers (let alone the ridiculous extra scenes that Marvel Studios has become famous for. Please, no!). I’ve never wanted to tease the reader or string a reader along. I just wanted to write quality stories, encompassing one person’s whole worldview in one story. Sequels, series, trilogies were just not for me.

Well, hey. What do they say? People change? So do writers, and that has led me to some unfamiliar territory. When I wrote my latest novel – still unreleased – the story, though quite tidy, didn’t feel over. There were unanswered questions and many new avenues to explore. I decided to thing about a sequel. It let me to a cool idea and then the story took off.

Well, no those two stories are becoming three. My first trilogy.

As I continue to punch away at the keys and discover all the crazy ways this story is taking on new life, I’ve realized that there is a difference between a sequel and a just a longer story. My goal now isn’t to write three related novels. My goal is to write one story, broken into manageable and gripping parts. A large arc over all three with individual arcs built into each section. It’s a challenging yet fascinating process, and it’s forcing me to approach writing in different ways from the past. This can only be good in a writer’s development. I’m excited about that aspect.

To make this work, I’ve dramatically slowed down the release of book 1 so I can finish book 2 and be well on my way in book 3 before the opening chapter ever sees the light of day. As my English colleague says, trilogies planned at one time are better than those with an added sequel. I agree. It’s all about coherence and allowing new ideas be applied to previous ideas. Lots of back editing is needed. Retroactive writing is tough to do once the first story is in print.

The plot of this novel is a challenge. It’s complex, with many characters. It has two main overarching stories which are connected. These stories have spawned subplots and minor characters and it’s a lot to keep straight. It’s a puzzle really. A puzzle I’m driving myself. A puzzle I get to create. I love that aspect of it.

So writers, push yourself. Try something new. Let your trilogies be standalones and your standalones be trilogies. It will be worth it in the long run.