Mark Grover's picture
Mark Grover August 2, 2014 - 8:03am

Okay.  So I devoted quite a few hours to outlining my novel.  Just sort of frustrated that now since I have somewhat of a map, I still have points where I feel like I get stuck and ponder if I'm heading the right way or taking the right approach.  After a couple hours I see that I've only maybe written a few paragraphs.  How do you guys keep momentum and let the words flow?  I fluctuate from moments where I feel like I'm swimming naked to feeling like a capsized boat.  Any thoughts appreciated!

Aud Fontaine's picture
Aud Fontaine from the mountains is reading Catch-22. Since like, always. August 2, 2014 - 12:03pm

For me, I find it impossible to do outlines because they never end up anything like the actual story. What I usually do is go for a walk, listen to some music that fits the overall tone that I'm going for, and then go back and just start writing. It feels much more organic and helps me to kind of feel out where things need to go. Sometimes I'll skip a few chapters or pages or paragraphs ahead and jot something down but for the most part my first draft tends to be my outline, if that makes sense. As for momentum, I'd suggest music. Again. I'm obviously no expert but if I can find some properly moody jams it really helps me get into a solid rhythm. And if I get really stuck I'll just go for a walk again or do something else active where I can try to visualize what needs to happen and how to get there. Personally, I feel like writing should be about keeping it as natural as you can. Hope this helps.

J.C. Wigriff's picture
J.C. Wigriff from Carbondale, IL is reading Playboy (for the articles) August 2, 2014 - 7:06pm

This may sound odd to non-gamers, but my first storytelling experiences came from playing tabletop games like Dungeons & Dragons. I was a dungeon master telling stories long before I was ever writing stories, so (Jesus jumped-up Christ on a pogo-stick, I’m actually saying this in public) I would essentially create an entire world, filled with non-player characters (villains/shopkeeps/villagers/bards/travelling rogues/hermits), and then I would need to understand those character’s motivations, goals, and what they were doing day-to-day in order to help make the world more organic for the players when we would sit down for a session.

I think my experiences with tabletop games has influenced my writing tremendously, because I outline everything. I might not outline everything at first – sometimes parts of the story need to evolve naturally for me. Normally I will have an idea for a story, and I’ll want to know the basic skeleton of the story (beginning, arc, end, main character’s personality), and then once I have that I will brainstorm more on how it all evolves.

Once I have the basic skeleton and a clear vision I will write a few chapters. The first chapters normally, for me, flow easier than anything else because I’ll have a good idea of where I’m going that early on in detail. I am a strong proponent of “just get it down and make it pretty later.” I can’t write any other way. If I worry too much about prose and perfect sentence structure during a first draft I will end up just getting frustrated, stuck, disheartened, and then I head into DELETE territory.

I experience exactly what you seem to be experiencing: I will have a clear vision, but sometimes I just can’t figure out how to say what I’m trying to say. What typically works for me is this: I will lay down on the couch next to my computer, with the monitor off, in total silence, and stare at the ceiling while daydreaming about the scene. I will play it out in my head, like watching a movie. I might even talk to myself. Sometimes I just count the bumps on the ceiling until inspiration strikes, but I try and let it come naturally. Some days I write 5,000 words like it’s nothing (high output in a day for me), and sometimes, like you’re describing, I get stuck where I know what needs to happen, but not how to make it happen, so I have to resort to the couch, no distractions, and total quiet. If it somehow isn’t happening, I don’t try and force it, and I might move on to another chapter and work on it for a while, but usually it eventually comes.

I hope this helps somewhat. Everyone does things differently.

L.W. Flouisa's picture
L.W. Flouisa from Tennessee is reading More Murakami August 2, 2014 - 3:50pm

In steps:

1. Turn off the laptop.

2. Turn on nature music.

3. Breath 5 - 3 - 5 for thirty minutes.

4. Consult the seven point system.

I forgot the portable word processor in there.

Thuggish's picture
Thuggish from Vegas is reading Day of the Jackal August 2, 2014 - 9:46pm

you know, honestly, i don't. it's either happening or it doesn't these days.

but! if i'm borderline, and stuck on something but i have a good idea of what's next, i'll skip to the next. it only happens a little if i have the ball rolling, but why let it stop you?, i say. you can always fill in later. even if it takes a couple drafts to figure out how.

L.W. Flouisa's picture
L.W. Flouisa from Tennessee is reading More Murakami August 3, 2014 - 5:13pm

One other cool method I heard about is writing the most vivid scenes first. That would work great for my muist fiction.

Brandon's picture
Brandon from KCMO is reading Made to Break August 4, 2014 - 5:46am

I'm a consumate outliner now.

My first novel--a 300+ pager--took about two and a half years to write because I was winging it and had no real plan.

The second--a 500+ pager (in its first draft/pre-edit)--took less than a year to write because I wasn't wasting as much time trying to figure out where things were going.

Chacron's picture
Chacron from England, South Coast is reading Fool's Assassin by Robin Hobb August 4, 2014 - 11:06am

I wing it every time. I plan in my head, but more often than not, that plan changes. I don't honestly care how long it takes to do it that way (and it does take longer) because the way I see it I'm under no time pressure from anyone. I don't, however, subscribe to the idea that this method is 'best practice.' No such thing. It either works well for you, or you prefer to plan because that's how you write a better story. I guess I'm just a masochist because I make myself work more and harder by using the fly-by-the-seat-of-my-pants method, but once I get a result out of it, the satisfaction is always that little bit greater than if I planned. My two cents.

Charles's picture
Charles from Portland is reading Mongrels by Stephen Graham Jones August 6, 2014 - 10:04am

I am a discovery writer. As such, I pretty much never outline in a traditional sense of the word. But at the same time, I think in story structures and things that I can use to move the story forward, while giving myself a kind of a sense of rhythm. My process is probably a little insane like that. But other than the sense of rhythm, the things I can return to as a writer, I like to let my characters react to the action organically. 

L.W. Flouisa's picture
L.W. Flouisa from Tennessee is reading More Murakami August 6, 2014 - 4:38pm

I'm actually considering a common basic structure, and just winging it. I've outlined for so long now.

Frank Menser's picture
Frank Menser from North Carolina August 7, 2014 - 5:50am

I never use outlines. Frankly, I am a total 'stream of conscious' writer, I take the journey with my characters. If I know what is going to happen, I get bored.

Dwayne's picture
Dwayne from Cincinnati, Ohio (suburbs) is reading books that rotate to often to keep this updated August 7, 2014 - 11:32am

I don't think it is so either or.  I have four of five sentences so I'm not just writing blind, but not a huge detailed one so I'm trapped.