Tuesday, March 23, 2010

In Defense of Conformity

I'm a natural-born rule breaker. Always have been, always will be. I lack the ability to follow a recipe or a pattern without changing something. Is it genetic? Maybe. Whatever it is, it's mighty strong.

Okay, so I had a dream when I was just seventeen and I wrote it down. It stuck with me for the longest time, driving me up the wall. I decided I had to give it more details and let it play the rest of the way out or I was going to go crazy, so I started writing a novel. The thing never amounted to more than 5,000 pages of cursing and drug use before I tossed it aside. My senior year was wild and didn't leave me the kind of time I needed to write. Of course, I needed another decade to grow up before I could really REALLY write the way I wanted to.

My husband and I bought a new house last year and I came across a box of my creative writing notebooks from back in high school. Tucked into the stacks of yellowing notebooks (it physically hurt to write that detail) was the carefully typed first chapter of my dream. The amazing thing is how incredibly fresh it was in my head after fifteen years of life and love and kids. I started writing it again. And again. And yet again. Then I got really ticked and scrapped the whole project.

But I couldn't stop thinking about it.

Another little factoid about me; I don't sleep well. I just don't. Once my kids are asleep, my second wind kicks in and I'm good to go. The fun little insomnia bit just gets worse when I'm writing a first draft. I'll force myself into bed but I'm still composing scenes in my mind. Fortunately, I have this handy little friend called Ambien to help out on those nights. FYI: Ambien is generally a lousy muse, although it's been known to help me earn some killer high scores on Bejeweled. I wrote a love scene after taking Ambien one night and came back to it the next day to find I'd written about Jiffy-Pop microwave popcorn (which I don't think exists) and something much like speech therapy.

So, this one night, I pop an Ambien and head off to bed. But then it hits me; I have two crucial details of the dream wrong. I scribble furiously in a spiral notebook for a good twenty minutes before I'm too dizzy to see what I'm writing anymore. Amazingly, the notes still make sense the next day. The trouble is, I can only write random fractions of scenes before I hit a wall and have to stop. It's not a super complicated plot but it's a super complicated idea. You'll see what I mean when you read it. Enough present tense. I hate present tense, except for The Hunger Games.

I bought a bunch of books on writing from Barnes & Noble and did some serious speed reading before I hatched a plan; I would write an outline. It went against everything I stand for, but I was desperate. Lo and behold, it worked. Page after page has been flowing like Diet Coke for the last few weeks. I've never been this productive, this excited or this madly in love with a WIP before. I know where I'm going. I know what happens in each chapter. I could query this puppy and send the first three chapters and a synopsis already (and believe you me, it's tempting). It's all in the bag.

Outlines rock. I'll be using them from now on to make sure every chapter is carrying the plot where it needs to go and my characters are on the right track. I'm an outline convert. This is what change looks like, people.

So tell me; do you write by the seat of your pants, or does your trip have an itinerary?