PhotobucketToday we feature another of our fab WU finalists for the Unpubbed Writer position. Kristan Hoffman isn’t just a terrific writer (she was a quarter-finalist for the Amazon Breatkthrough Novel Award), she’s one of our most loyal commenters (TY, Kristan!). We know you’ll enjoy her post about outlines, word counts, momentum, and writerly frustrations.
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A while back, urban fantasy writer Justine Musk wrote a great post about “outlines and word quotas and why they sometimes might lead to sucky writing.” While I do recommend reading the whole thing, here’s the gist of what she said:

I believe in outlines. Except when I don’t.

I believe in daily word quotas. Except when I don’t.

I believe in encountering the work, which an outline can prevent you from doing.

Unfortunately, this is extremely relevant to my new WIP. See, I decided to set word quotas, but I didn’t outline, because I too believe in “encountering the work.” However, what I encountered this time was a big fat BORING first chapter.

Why? Because I wrote back story. I wrote 3,500 words about Jake and Yvonne (the two main characters) that could have been summed up in one simple sentence: Their relationship has gone stale.

When I realized what I’d done, late on a Sunday night, I kind of wanted to die. Because I was exhausted, I still had a word quota to fill, and my writing was garbage. (Garbage!)

Did I cry that night? You bet I did. Teeny tiny tears of frustration. It sucked.

Did I write that night? You bet I did. All 1,000 words. They sucked too.

So why did I even bother to finish my quota if I knew I might have to chuck most of it?

Because I didn’t want to lose momentum. A more disciplined writer probably could have afforded to just stop, take a step back, and focus on fixing Chapter 1, but I’ve proven time and time again that if I don’t keep my momentum going, I will lose it. And 2010 is about winning, not losing.

(Plus, you never know what you might be able to reuse in another place or on another project. I don’t really believe in “wasted” words.)

Anyway, to avoid that kind of a situation from recurring, I am now outlining. But wait, Kristan! Didn’t Justine say that outlines are bad and lead to sucky writing?! Well, yes and no. Justine said that outlines sometimes lead to sucky writing, because they can make a writer feel tied to an idea that doesn’t truly fit the story.

But sometimes you really need an outline, otherwise it’s like you’re driving from Maine to California with no map. Sure, you might know to head southwest, but guess what? Mexico is southwest of Maine too. And though there are a few similarities, Mexico and California are most definitely not the same.

Some people have a really good sense of direction, and they would have no problem getting to California without GPS or Google Maps or even road signs. But me, I need a map. If something comes up, like heavy traffic or construction (cough cough metaphor for part of the outline that isn’t working cough cough), then I’ll find a detour. But driving across the country with nothing more than my instincts? Apparently that’s not for me. Not this time.

So what about you? Do you have a good sense of direction, or do you prefer to use a map?

Photo courtesy Flickr’s Wonderlane

About Kristan Hoffman

Kristan Hoffman was a finalist in our search for an unpublished contributor; a quarterfinalist in the Amazon Breatkthrough Novel Awards for her novel The Good Daughters (women’s fiction/multicultural); and the winner of the St. Martin’s Press “New Adult” Contest for her web series, Twenty-Somewhere (now available as an ebook).