You all know I’m a die-hard outliner now. I will never write another novel again without outlining extensively.
But as valuable as outlining is–both in helping me create a solid story structure and allowing me to get to know my characters and their world at such a detailed level–I must confess, this last week or so, I’ve kind of been using outlining as a procrastination tool to keep me from the real task at hand: actually writing the damn thing.
I love writing prose. There are few things that feel as amazing as being in that writing flow, when words are pouring out of your brain and onto the page, and it doesn’t even seem as though you’re putting in any kind of effort to make that happen. Most unfortunately, I’ve had few of these experiences with original fiction. For one reason or another (actually, I can think of many), I seem to have little trouble getting into this state with fan fiction, but when it comes to my own characters and my own storylines, it’s a constant grind, a constant battle.
It’s a marathon every single time.
Now, here’s the thing about marathons. You can (and should) train extensively for them. You can make them far, FAR less painful for you if you put in the time, the effort, and the focus. But guess what? When you get to mile 20, it’s still going to suck. I don’t care how fit you are, how strong you are, or how much training you put in–mile 20 is always going to suck. Now, it will suck much less if you’re properly trained, but nothing will change the fact that you’ve run 20 miles at that point, and your legs will be tired and your brain will be mush, and you will not want to do the rest of the 6.2 miles.
That’s just human nature.
What separates the well-trained from the untrained, though, is that sheer will to keep going. That knowledge that this sucky feeling can’t possibly–and absolutely won’t–last forever, and when you do cross that finish line, it’s a high like no other.
Writing a novel is very much like this. I will tell you it’s no coincidence that I finished my first novel (well, the first draft of it, anyway) just a few months after I ran my first marathon. After 6 long (and I do mean looooong) years of toiling away at it, I finally buckled down and saw it through to the end. I fervently believe it was because of everything I learned training for (and actually running) that first marathon.
My point in all of this? I was scared to get out of the outlining stage and finally get my second novel started, because I was dreading the grind. I thought that the more I outlined, the less of a grind it would be, that it would magically be easier, faster, absolutely pain-free writing the first draft. Well, it doesn’t really work that way. Mile 1 (Chapter 1, Scene 1) is still going to be your warm-up, and your legs are going to feel like lead. At Mile 13 (the dreaded middle) it’s still going to feel tempting to just call it a day and bail. At mile 20 (chugging towards your climax), you’re still going to be in your “bite me” zone and want to rip everyone’s heads off for saying to you, “You’re almost there!!”
And at mile 26, when you see that finish line .2 miles away, you’re going to feel those tears well up because you made it this far, and you know the overwhelming rush that will consume you once you cross that finish line. That is what makes the grind worth it.
So I will keep on slogging through this first draft, even if there are some days when I want to run away from it and pound out some fan fiction, just to prove to myself I still remember how to write well. When I finally get this first draft written–and it’s my story, my characters–it will be a victory like no other.