Monday Musings: Trials of an Anxious Planner

I’ve spent the last several weeks coordinating this post. There’s a draft of this post written that I am right now in the process of revising. I don’t like the first draft so I’m trying something different. I’m trying to give you a glimpse into my thought process.

Since I didn’t think the post was up to snuff, I set it down to let it rest in the draft section. I busied myself with other projects. I have a major fiction project with a very involved outline. My chapters have bullet points and side notes of things to keep in mind. It’s so obsessive about the details that, after a certain point, it’s hard to look at because of how busy it is. I reference it for broad strokes and then write. New details pop up unaccounted for in the outline. I have to retroactively think about how this impacts the narrative.

I step away from writing. I start thinking about dinner: the food in the cupboards, the food in the fridge, and how do I make these things into a meal? But dinner is a long way off. There are work responsibilities, family responsibilities, and self-care responsibilities. I sketch out all these things into a planner that I sometimes adhere to.

I can spend minutes, hours, days, and weeks, silently thinking about things. I’ve made it an art form. From the mundane like waking up wondering what I’ll eat for dinner to the particulars of work training to my very own fiction outlining strategy—I plan.

I see my dedication to detail as an admirable trait most days but my tendency to perfectionism means most projects stop short. I get really excited about something and then drown in the details. Previous to this year, it’s what killed many a project I’ve been excited about. I consider what it’ll take to make something “perfect,” try to sketch out a plan, and lose steam because of how anxious I get considering the avalanche of minutiae.

Thoughtful planning can be the driver of creation but getting caught up in it can also suck the fun out of the very thing you’re trying to create. I’m in the valley between the peaks right now. I’ve spent so much time and energy planning things that the execution already has me exhausted.

And that’s okay. At least, that’s what I keep telling myself. I truly believe it but that driver to create makes me feel guilty for not wanting to do so.

I’m trying to slow down and roam the valley. The work isn’t going anywhere.

Oh, the Joys of Outlining (again)

I was never much of an outliner.

Being the candy addled 10-year old that I was when I started writing, I wrote what felt right. I followed my heart and my imagination and let that take me wherever it wanted. This energy led to a lot of ideas but nothing that ever got finished.

I look back fondly on this era in my life. Oh, all the ideas I had. The confidence I had in committing every one of them to paper. But I also realize that a lot of them were (oh, how should I put this) really, really awful but still cute in their own way. And in those days, I dismissed outlining. I absolutely hated the idea of it because I viewed it as a constraint on stories. Getting bogged down in the details wasn’t really my thing then and I held onto this belief until about three years ago.

Now I realize how essential outlining is to creating a roadmap to a story and continuing its momentum when you feel lost.

And I’m feeling really lost at the moment. I’ve been revising my Festival of Shadows novel for the last year now and I’m still navigating its fraught waters. I have an outline but after six chapters of pushing through it, it doesn’t feel right. So, these last few days, I’ve been returning to the outline and doing some long overdue research on outlining strategies.

And you know what I found: Premise statements! In fiction, this is a succinct line or two about your story. I know most of you are slapping your foreheads at me wondering how I missed something so basic but this blew my mind. Again, keep in mind that I shook my fist at outlining yelling that it couldn’t contain me.

The premise statement gets at the narrative heart of your story and it’s the very thing I’ve been struggling with FoS. I had scenes, I had twists, turns, and some motivation here or there, but I couldn’t very clearly explain what my story was about. And now I can (sorta).

It’s a work in progress (when isn’t it, honestly) but my Festival of Shadows premise goeth thusly:

“In a town filled with ghosts, witches, and other miscellaneous members of the undead, stubborn reporter Mariela Hudson seeks answers to the uncanny disappearances of her fellow citizens and to also uncover the mysteries of her past with the reluctant help of an intern who sees spirits and a cynical coworker. Their efforts draw the ire of a monster in the shadows that threaten the town.”

I’m still tinkering with my story outline so I would really love to learn your favorite outline strategies in the comments below. For those who don’t outline, how do you craft your stories?