Warning: Hacks for Hacks tips may have harmful side effects on your writing career, and should not be used by minors, adults, writers, poets, scribes, scriveners, journalists, or anybody.
Science fiction Grand Master Joe Haldeman once told me, “If you’re having trouble writing a book, try writing about the book.” By “told me,” I mean he said this out loud in a convention panel discussion that I happened to have wandered into, and by “writing about the book” he meant outlining, probably (I wandered in halfway through). Given that I can get stuck on four to five books at a time, I’m the ideal person to extrapolate on the advice Haldeman might very well have given. So let’s talk about outlines!
What an Outline Is, Isn’t, and Kinda Resembles
Let’s start with defining an outline. For the purposes of this column, an outline is any document external to your book that acts as a guide to the process of completing it. It is not the Roman-numeral-laden inverted staircase you made in your high school English class (unless you find that structure helpful). Literally any format that makes sense to you is fine, whether that’s a one-page narrative description of characters and events, a bulleted list of plot points, or a bar napkin you found in your coat pocket that says, “Like Die Hard but with dragons.” Anything is an outline if you’re okay filling in gaps with explosions.
Some people think of an outline as an instruction manual for writing your book. I like to think of an outline as the literary equivalent of the people in your life who enable your writing career while you take them for granted and give them very little in return.
Know Your Ending
Do you pack the fam into the car for a vacation if you don’t know the destination? In this metaphor, the roadmap is your outline, and your vacation destination of Orlando, Florida, is the ending for your novel, which is in Jacksonville, Florida.