20.2.12

Method in Writing


"Though this be madness, yet there is method in 't.". - (Hamlet, Act II, Scene II).

Of late, it seems there’s more madness to my writing than method. 

Every time I think that I have my novel figured out, some new idea occurs to me that sounds better than the last. If I made every change in my novel that I had thought up, I’d never finish. Which leads me to my question: Is writing method or madness?

It appears that there are two general approaches to writing: outlining and “pantsing.” Usually, I fall into the latter category. I have, of course, attempted the outlining. Outlining is difficult for me, and I always stray from my outline when I write. 

I find outlining, in many ways, too confining. If I were to restrict myself to following an outline, I would never find out other things about my characters. When I write, my characters constantly are revealing more about themselves to me, and constantly changing my perception of them. If I were to keep to the outline, some of my best scenes would never have gotten written.

After many failed outlines, I have come to accept that I find outlines restricting, and recognize that I do not have to outline. When I write, my characters lead me down the path that they have already chosen, and my attempts to outline their paths merely constrains them. 

However, in the same sense, I have found much value in outlining. My outlines usually occur after I have written the first draft. I outline the draft in progress, which helps me to identify what is not working in the draft and realize what I need to work on. In this sense, outlining has proven valuable to me.

I cannot argue that the method of outlining has merit: when you write with an outline, you know your goal, your end result. When you write with without an outline, you waste a lot of time writing scenes that are often tangents. Writing without an outline certainly seems like madness. 

But even when I do not outline, I find that I need to know where I am headed with my novel--even if in just the most general, abstract of sense. If you start with no idea other than a character, you cannot expect to end up with a novel that anyone would want to read. So I follow an abbreviated outlining method, which consists of me knowing just the most general sense of the change in the character I want to show throughout the novel and knowing the end result of the book.

Yet, if you outline, you must allow that outline to be flexible and fluid, changing with your characters and with the novel as it progresses. 

There is both method and madness to writing. You must be able to see the value of outlining and writing according to plan, with a method, while utilizing the madness of writing with abandon, with no outline, with only your character to drag you along. There is both method and madness, but it is up to you to embrace them both.