Rules for writing and outlining blues

I talked on Twitter all yesterday about the rules of outlining. I had this seemingly good idea this summer, I wrote some ideas for scenes and what I wanted to happen, then I started getting into the “How to Structure a Novel.”

So. Many. Rules.

Scenes have to have three parts, and they have to lead into one another. Books have three acts, a Hero’s Quest, and the second act is broken in half. This is the only way you will ever write a good book because we live in the 21st Century and all books have to be like this to be a success.

Creativity is fine, I’m told, but you need framework. You don’t jump in, write something, then editing later. Nono. You’d have a mess. You want to follow the structure. Make sure every part is exact.

I’m exaggerating, of course, but only a little. I wanted to learn about structure of novels because we’re only taught short story writing, essay writing, and poetry as Lit and Writing majors. How to put novels together is tricky. You don’t just get in and get out. You don’t write a story, get feedback, edit and polish. No.

When I was taught as a kid, we had introduction, rising action, climax, falling action, and resolution. That was what worked. Ah, the poor mis-led children of the 80s.

After I went through webinars and my Young Adult Writing class, I’ve used my big summer project idea to plan it out. At first I thought it was going well. I never completed an outline. You know why? Because I don’t know how the book is going to go. I have a beginning, scene ideas, and a conclusion to aim for. Granted, the smaller, basic outline that my professor gave me is easier to work with:

hook, backstory, trigger – crisis, struggle, epiphany – plan, climax, ending

And I have somewhat of an idea about what I could put in there but, you know what? It’s boring.

Now that NaNoWriMo showed up, I sat down and tried to go back to my diving in and making a scene. But now I can’t do that. My scene must have a goal, a conflict, and a disaster with a reaction that leads to the next goal. I don’t mind framework, but this has really killed my creativity and interest in the project. I didn’t like the project to begin with, and this has just solidified my need to throw it in a drawer once my class is over, and forget about it. It’s going to be a practice in character sketches and outlining. Maybe later, once the tears of frustration have left, will I try it again.

Anyway, I want to thank everyone on Twitter who assured me that outlining before writing isn’t necessary for everyone. I really want to create a good book, but I need to feel through the story first before I know what the prize and final threshold will be for my character.

I think the most positive reinforcement of this writing with creative freedom is from Meg Cabot’s “Why I Don’t Outline:”

I will tell you why I think you can’t write your book:


Yeah. You wrote your book in OUTLINE form. Now your brain—your muse—your creative story-telling impulse—WHATEVER it is that makes us want to write stuff down and share it with the world—is telling you that your job is done: you already shared your story. You’re finished. There’s nothing left to say because you already said it all.


I know outlining works for people and they have everything set up before they put pen to paper. I like impulse and creative juices flowing that lead me on a journey. Again, I have to agree with Cabot, “I think outlines are ideal for expository writing.”

When I have outlined, I’ve gotten to the middle, or first quarter of the book idea and then got to the writing. I never looked at the outline again. It wasn’t worth it. It wasn’t the same story that came out in my writing. Again, I think outlining and planning are better for editing, at least in my case.

And by the way, I’ve written 650 words of the story I’ve decided to work on for NaNo, a going back to something I had already written 30k words of before I was working a lot. My project before I got to NaNo was maybe 5K. Once NaNo started: 90.

That’s when I cried and declared I’d never try to write that book again.

So I think the trying to plan and work slowly and carefully doesn’t work with NaNo. It’s too much all at once. NaNo is more of a doodle session, plotting and outlining is adhere to guidelines. There can’t be any rules for doodling.

Lastly, my favorite quotes about writing well this past week was on Ally Carter’s Twitter:

Can’t stop thinking about how the biggest theme in the Publishing/Writing Ask Ally was basically surprise that writing a book is hard.

Really curious why so many people think writing a book should be easy. Let me assure you: it’s not.

So if you’re trying to write your first novel and it is taking a long time and really sucks: congratulations! You’re doing it right!

This is why I think it’s the NaNoWriMo that’s put me off more than anything. I dunno…


About Suzanne Schultz Pick

Married to Steve. Mother of Jack. Librarian IT Assistant. Writer, teacher, blogger, podcaster, technological princess.
This entry was posted in All About Me, Writing and tagged , , . Bookmark the permalink.

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