You guys, I don’t want to sound dramatic, but writing is hard.
I want it to be all composing in coffee shops, riding a wave of inspiration with a jaunty beret on my head but it’s just not.
It’s kind of like marriage. The movies make it look so romantic. Proposals are epic and surprising. In reality, I remember thinking before Marshall and I got engaged, “Wow, this is a lot more practical than I expected.” We’d been talking about marriage for at least a year before he proposed, hashing out all the details of when and where and how. It wasn’t a shock when he finally proposed, but it was beautiful, and I wouldn’t have had it any other way. Communication and work and practicality are the keys to being able to enjoy all the romantic aspects.
As you all know, I’m about 75% done with the first draft of the sequel to ATFS. It’s crunch time! Things are happening! Plotlines are beginning to reach their ends!
Yeah, I totally choked. I vomited up 2,500 words in a day and then I got stuck. I got overwhelmed by the number of subplots I had to wrap up and somehow turn into a cohesive narrative in 25,000 words or less. Our internet wasn’t working at work on Monday, so I took a half day. I had three blissful hours of uninterrupted writing time, and all I could do was stare at the screen. THE WORST.
As one does in such situations, I immediately went crying to the groupchat. The G&T Squad deserves their very own blog post at some point so I won’t go into too much detail, but just know that it’s comprised of two women I trust implicitly in writing and in life and who always make me feel better when I’m circling the drain.
I whined for a little bit, and then we got down to business. What do I need to do to move forward? We batted around some ideas, and then B asked if I’d seen J.K. Rowling’s outline for Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix. Of course I’ve seen it, every writer has seen it. Wait, are you insinuating I should apply that crazy level of intricacy and detail into my piddly novel? LOOK AT THIS:
I know it’s easy to forget amidst all the Harry Potter hype, but Rowling is a genius. The amount of outlining, sub-plotting, and foresight required for writing a seven-novel series that takes place in a world where magic exists completely boggles my mind.
Friends, I am not J.K. Rowling. Generally, I tend to fall into the “fly by the seat of your pants” category, in writing and in most aspects of my life, to be honest. My outlines are very loose, with vague bullet-points of major events that I’d like to see happen. Even then, it usually becomes unrecognizable by the end. I tend to let my characters run away with me.
My method worked fine for ATFS because it was a fairly straightforward novel that relied mostly on a single plot – Laura and her journey. Some way or another, the sequel has developed a bevy of subplots. My method is no longer working for me.
So, I did a bit of reading and found this article, titled What We Can Learn from J.K. Rowling’s Series Grid. The author transcribed Rowling’s outline into a spreadsheet and pointed out the benefit of separating one’s plot points into “series,” or recurring narrative elements that are eventually interwoven into one over-arching plot. Here’s what it looks like:
Now, I don’t know about you, but I love a good spreadsheet. They make me feel organized and logical, two things I’m generally… not. So, I decided to give it a try. I identified all my subplots, listed them, then went back to the very beginning of the novel and tracked them all the way through, chapter by chapter, just like above. And do you know what? That J.K. Rowling is onto something. I ended up plotting through the very end of my novel. I know exactly where I’m going and how I’m going to get there, and it reinvigorated my writing in a major way.
All that said, I’m still me. I definitely left a few things vague, and unlike Rowling’s, my spreadsheet has boxes that say “???” and “I DON’T KNOW” and also there’s one that just says “Reunited and it feels so good” because I’m a professional and serious author.
I wasn’t kidding. That’s literally the whole box.
So kids, what I’ve learned through this experience is that approaching things with practicality and logic doesn’t mean you have to sacrifice the personality and flair that make you the writer that you are, just like approaching marriage with thought and reason doesn’t make it any less romantic when you say “I do.” It’s a mix of logic and love that really makes things work.