We each have a writing style that works best for us

Thinking CapI’ve found in the past that all my short stories and novels seemed to spring into my head almost fully-formed, or at least with the beginning and end already clear. The path to get from beginning to end might be a bit winding and overgrown, but a specific path existed. Writing for me felt more like transcribing a movie. It was as if the entire story was playing in my head and it was my job to get it onto paper as fast as I could type. This is how every first draft I’ve ever written has been. Subsequent edit rounds were much more detailed and tedious, but the basic story flowed as if a gift from the cosmos. Consequently, I never outline. I did have to make a rather extensive timeline chart for my first novel, The Case of a Cold Trail and a Hot Musket, because it was vital to keep track, at all times, of all three of my main characters comings and goings. And my second novel, Born Rich, required a couple of pages of notes about the world in which my characters lived, since I was creating it from scratch. These necessities showed up after the initial flow onto paper, when I started editing and polishing.

But a chapter-by-chapter outline? Nope. Never.

Chapter OutlineI have writer friends who create detailed outlines and it works perfectly for them. It helps them keep on track and move smoothly from chapter to chapter. I tried that once and it drove me nuts. It felt as if I was writing the story twice — once as an outline then again as the novel.

Maybe it’s a remnant of my time in the 70s as a programmer — I hated of having to flowchart every program I wrote. We were supposed to flowchart ahead of time but I found that insufferable. Instead I wrote the code then created the flowchart from the finished product. The bosses never knew, they were just pleased to have a flowchart. Everyone was happy.

For whatever reason, trying to outline before I get that first draft onto paper ends up destroying the “magic” of the story. The best analogy I can offer is to imagine that before you go see a movie you must read the entire synopsis. Seeing the movie will subsequently have lost something. It won’t feel as special, nor will it feel as creative and exciting.

Calvin Hobbes Writers BlockMy free-flow writing style has always been quite natural for me, not to mention exciting and rewarding. Not so with my latest novel. As always, I know the beginning and end, but this time the path is missing. I’ve spent weeks figuratively hacking at the weeds, trying to find the elusive path that will lead me through the plot. It’s just not there. This is a new experience for me and I must admit it is quite frustrating.

I’ve thought a great deal about why it’s different this time around. My best guess is the current story idea didn’t come to me fully-formed, as if transmitted to me as I slept. It is the result of brainstorming with my husband. Can I get from here to there? I’m determined to see it through. I love the story. I love the quirky characters. I love how it ends. But I certainly cannot see at the moment how I’m going to  proceed. I cannot see the path. I rarely suffer writer’s block but it’s got me for now. Maybe I’ll try an outline.


  1. Tam Francis:

    I feel your pain, but don’t be afraid o try a new path, like an outline. Doesn’t mean you HAVE to stick with the outline. I often to sketchy outlines. I liken it to a road map: There are major cities I need to go through to get to my final destination, but there is still A LOT of magic out on the open road in-between those cities.

    I didn’t do an outline with the sequel to Girl in the Jitterbug Dress, (The Girl in the Jitterbug Dress Hops the Atlantic), but now that I’m near the end and can see the finish line, I made a list of stops I need to make before I get there, otherwise, I will rush to the end and miss some gorgeous scenery :)

    Sorry, to hear your struggles, but I know you’ll overcome. Best of luck!

    ~ Tam Francis ~


  2. Gretchen Rix:

    It will come to you. I don’t suggest an outline, though. Just sit down and write.


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