For the last two weeks, I’ve been outlining my new project: “I Am Hades.” You can learn more about it in my earlier posts, but the goal is a fiction novel inspired by classic, superhero crime fighters. In order to make sure I don’t lose momentum—and I have a finished manuscript in a timely manner—I’ve decided to forego my usual sloppy approach. Instead of jumping into a story I know nothing about, I am trying to outline it first.
If you think that outlining your writing project is going to make it easier, I have news for you. The same hurdles you’ll face writing your story crop up during the outline. That’s because you’re faced with the same, nagging question: what the heck is this story about? You can be as energized and enthusiastic about your would-be best-selling novel all you want. But you still have to do the hard work of writing at some point.
And that requires a tremendous amount of your mental, creative energy. Working at 100%. For extended lengths of time. And that’s something most writers really don’t know how to do.
It’s a discipline. And, like all disciplines in this lazy, self-centered day and age, nobody knows how to do it. To produce a work of quality, you need more than talent. Chances are, you’re not as talented as you think. Sometimes, I think I’m talented. After all, I can churn out upwards of twelve news articles a day, for various clients. But is that because I’m just so freaking talented… or because I’ve been busting my butt every day for the last six years?
If you really want to produce a work of fiction, even a bad work of fiction, you have to perform this difficult task. That’s not to say outlining hasn’t been helpful. Perhaps only in this one area.
When writing a long work of fiction, it’s easy to lose perspective. What do I mean by that? When you’re 10 or 20 chapters deep in a book, you sometimes need to come up for air and get an overall sense of where the story is going. Where did we start? How’s the journey been so far? Are we getting close to where we set out for? Or has the story gotten derailed so much, that we’ve lost the original promise?
This is a common problem, at least for me. The story might not have lost the focus, but as a writer, you need to constantly ensure you’re still on track. That’s hard to do when you’ve written thousands of words and have no clue where you’re going next.
I’ve found that an outline can quickly help me regain perspective, to ensure my story is aligning with my original goal. Now, stories can often surprise you and go in a direction you didn’t plan. In a good way. But that kind of alchemy happens all on its own. You can’t predict it. So, you need to have a path to follow, when the story isn’t going its own way.
But I can’t say for certain that my outline for Hades is doing exactly what I want it to do. I am still struggling with that big question: what happens next? My hope was that an outline would make answering that much easier. It hasn’t. Writing, no matter your method, is always a struggle.
If it was anything otherwise, it wouldn’t be worth doing.