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Robert's Rules of Writing #25: Wing It

[Rule quoted from Robert's Rules of Writing: 101 Unconventional Lessons Every Writer Needs to Know by Robert Masello (Writer's Digest Books, 2005). See my original post for the rules of this discussion.]

As I hinted at in my last look at Robert's Rules, after advising writers to outline their work in rule #24, he then advises them to wing it with rule #25.

He doesn't really contradict himself, however. He's not saying that writers shouldn't use outlines. Instead, he's suggesting that once you've got the outline set, it's okay to deviate from it when necessary. He suggests that the outline is a malleable document, something to fall back upon when you need it. But if you find that the story is taking you in a different direction, he says, go with it.

I'm going to take his rule one step further, and share with you my own advice as someone who prefers to outline. (And again, I may have hinted at this last time.) When I find that the novel or story is changing direction and deviating from the outline, I do something about it.

I revise the outline.

Writers who hate outlining would probably resist this suggestion -- after all, why do even more work on an outline when you can be working directly on the story? But for me, it works. I take a break from the story and jot down ideas showing me where it seems to be going now. Once again, this gives me a chance to lay out some scenes to write later, so I'll never be sitting at my computer, frozen, not sure what to write because I don't know what comes next. And if I already know where I want the story to end, outlining allows me to chart the many possible pathways to that end, kind of like Feynman diagrams (for those of you into elementary particle physics). It makes it easier for me to pick a pathway in the end.

***

We've been through 25 of Robert's Rules now, which means we're a quarter of the way or so through the book. I'm going to take a break for a few weeks from this exploration; I've got a story due by the end of the month and a few others I've been working on, plus an outline for another novel. But don't worry -- I still plan to explore the world of writing through the rest of the book. In the meantime, if you haven't gotten ahold of a copy for yourself yet, now would be a good time.

Comments

One nice thing about revising an outline, for me, is that it also (as you implied above) reverberates through the rest of the outline, and I can watch how the shockwaves from the change effect everything else that comes afterwards before ever sitting down at the keyboard.
Kind of like time travel, or a game of Chrononauts. One alteration in the past creates waves of change that permeate into the future.
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