I’m in the last act of my current work-in-progress, making a crazy-mad dash to the finish. It’s a first draft and it’s ugly and beautiful and will probably bear no resemblance to the final draft after revisions. Still, knowing that revisions are coming, I’m planning ahead and outlining my next project.
I know the benefit of letting a draft “rest” before taking it on in revision, but once I get to the end I usually have a better sense of the beginning and want to rework it some. That causes a ripple effect down the line and I’ll end up trying to rework the entire manuscript. This is wrong, bad-wrong, and crazy-making wrong because I don’t have the perspective to see it with fresh eyes. The only way around this is to try and force a rest period by having something else lined up and waiting for me to work on.
So in those moments when the Muse refuses to sing these final pages to me, I’m outlining.
Boy, am I outlining.
I have a rough three-act outline for the story, breaking the main and sub-plots into large general chunks. I have another outline I call The Haiku with has the three acts broken into thirteen chapters – three for act one, five for act two, three for act three, with a prologue and epilogue chapter on either side. I have a five-act outline modified from screenplay structure, an original idea I came up with years ago that’s more satisfying to me than a three act model. And somewhere around here I have a folder with all the key story points written down on small sticky notes to be shuffled and rearranged into a proper order according to how I see the story unfolding on any given day.
At this point I have the story so over-plotted that when I finally sit down to write I shouldn’t have to review the outlines at all, which is the point. I have heard and know of writers who finish their first drafts and then delete them, an extreme version of pre-writing designed for them to get a sense of the story before settling in and writing the “real” draft. If I’m being honest, that’s probably what I’m doing in the long run between my “first” and “second” drafts, because they are often so radically different that the first draft probably holds the same purpose as those “vomit drafts” that others throw away.
But if I really thought that draft was disposable, I’d never be motivated enough to finish it.
So this new project with all its outlining, it’s less about locking myself into the story and more about pre-visioning a first draft so that when I start writing I’m actually on the second draft. Each of those outlines contains god bits not found on the others. In some, the plot points are different, though they exist on all the drafts. The sub-plot weaves a different pattern into the tapestry of each one, but the through-line is the same. The unnoticed holes in one are filled by the details in another. I’m so ready to write this thing after all the outlining that I’ll probably never look at the outlines once I start. Which is the point.
Am I playing games with myself? Yes. I’m overlapping my involvement with the stories so that when I finish the current WIP and need to let it settle I can start up with the new one immediately. It’s said that to be successful you have to show up for the job, every day, Butt In Chair. Agreed, but there also needs to be something going down, and I call that Always Be Writing. And if it takes outlining myself to the point of distraction, so be it.