I have been doing a lot of research lately on how other people begin their novels. I wanted to know what were the first steps people took when setting themselves up for the long-haul that is this process of telling yourself the story (because that’s what you’re doing in the first draft of your novel). I have asked a good number of people, and they have all mentioned outlining in one form or another. I’ll be honest, as a discovery writer I automatically become distrustful of the advice given by someone who is an outliner. This might seem like a harsh way to look at it, but I think it makes perfect sense. To me, it’s like getting advice for surviving in the arctic from someone who has only ever lived in the desert; the two might have a few things in common but overall they are fundamentally opposites.
There is no doubt about it, I am a discovery writer. I don’t pick characters, they come fully formed to my mind. They have their own minds, they do pretty much what they want to do with the occasional prodding from me, which may or may not actually push them in the direction I want, and they are mostly, though not entirely, out of my control.
What do I have control over? Well, I can dream up situations to put them in, decide which characters they get to interact with (just to see what happens), and, well, bits and pieces of the world. Though, I’ll be honest, once the world-building begins, that is largely out of my control as well. The world just explodes out of one or two ideas, and spreads itself like a plague. I may have begun the process of creating a world, but out of those few ideas the thing begins to build itself and it becomes my job to keep up with it as I’m writing.
As a whole, discovery writing can be a very exciting process. However, what happens for me is, whereas outliners know precisely where to begin and where they are going, I get lost at the point of beginning because I don’t know where it should start or where it should end. And believe me, I’ve tried outlining. I wish, more than anything sometimes, that I could at least incorporate outlining into my story, but as soon as the outline for any ending is written I lose all interest and joy in the story. When I outline the writing that comes from this is dusty and old and dry because I, as the writer, lose all of my excitement in going forward with the story.
The closest thing to an outline I can come is brainstorming a series of events or meetings that I want to take place in the story. I write them all down, then set them aside in the brainstorming pile, and when I run out of ideas I begin to write. What happens from here is I usually completely forget about the brainstorming pile until I get lost in my story or I hit that first wall. Then I go back to the b.p., and take one of the events or meetings that seems most interesting at that particular moment and place the characters into it. Honestly, the first one is almost always wasted because that writing-wall is in the way, but even though it’s sad to lose one of these scenarios the casualties are a necessary component in the war of story-telling.
I discovery write everything that I do well, and outline everything that anyone has told me could be improved upon. “This one was a bit dry compared with your usual fair,” “I couldn’t find your voice in this one,” and “Really not your best work” are just some of the comments I’ve received on pieces that I decided to outline. So I abandoned outlining altogether, yes, but I wish there was still some way in which I could organize my stories so that I don’t feel primarily as though everything I’m putting down is in absolute chaos. I don’t like chaos, I don’t like the way it feels around me or in my writing. There has to be a way to organize everything as a discovery writer without losing the organic aspect of the story-telling process.
I would be extremely happy to receive any writerly feedback on this if you have some to share. Feel more than welcome to comment below either way, and thank you so much for reading. Have a lovely day!