Outlining your work, whenever possible, can save you and your ideas. As a recovering pantser, I really hate that this is true. Even worse,evidence continues mounting to support it.
This morning I decided to get out of my house and go up to the coffee shop, armed with the sparkly-eyed idea that being around other human beings would be a good idea. While walking I came up with a fun but vague idea for today’s blog post, and loosely structured it in my head as I walked. I ordered coffee and set up a temporary work space while trying to hold onto my concept, finally beginning to type maybe half an hour after the initial idea.
I didn’t bother to develop it in outline at all, figuring this was a good topic to meander around. Wrong.
I had the weirdest interruption just a few minutes into hitting peak head space for writing.
This white guy with close cropped hair, very dudebro-douchey looking, sits down uninvited at my table and asks, “Do you have a phone?” I glare at him asking,”Why,” and he started babbling about needing to post a Craigslist ad, that he’d done too many and his number wasn’t working. As I’m not an idiot, I shook my head and said “No way” several times before he looked me right in the eye and very firmly said, “Just give me your number.”
His body language indicated that he was very used to this working like a Jedi mind trick. I just stared at him, a little shocked, until he got up and left, with a very put upon look on his face.
And that kind of ruined my morning. The narrative in my head was gone, and my brain was stuck in an anxiety loop as I switched between anger and some weird form of shame at myself for not cussing him out. I thought about getting the manager. I wondered how many people he had scammed this way, I was curious about the scam itself. I got stuck worrying about a conversation yesterday, where I had to explain to an elderly family member why they really, truly needed to change their Facebook password after getting hacked.
I tried pushing myself to write some more on the previous topic, but everything came out wrong, from the tone to the unifying idea behind the narrative. Things I probably could worked through if I’d just taken a few minutes to make some notes of what was floating around in my head.
When I get knocked out of creative headspace, it’s hard to get back there without a map. I think this is true of many artistic types. And there are plenty of techniques to work around it, so it’s a poor excuse for not getting the work done. If that had been a blog for a client, I probably would have comped the time lost, because not doing the due diligence to plan the piece was on me.
I’m working through a realization I had at the beginning of the year, that I need to respect my own writing projects. I need to stop storing junk on the desk I set up as a writing space, I need to schedule time for my personal projects, I need to do the same level of prep work for the artistic stuff as I do for paying gigs.
I need to respect my writing. I have to treat it seriously, if I want any level of success at this dream.
So I’ll be back to developing an obsession with outlining even simple blogs, and any fiction projects. I did a lot of prep work on that horror story I was working on before the wedding, which means I can jump back into it with a little warmup. I cannot express how happy I am about this, knowing that all that development work for a short story is paying off.
Life is weird and unpredictable. Make outlines, or at least jot down your basic ideas before jumping into the prose.