Response to Writing Blind

May 11, 2010 at 7:39 am (Planning, Thoughts on Writing) (, , , , , , , , , , , , , )

I ran across a post by Kyle on his blog “Exercise in Futility” called Writing Blind and really started thinking.  Kyle asks:

How much should I know about my story before sitting down to start on a draft?  Should I have the entire plot mapped out, with all the main plot points, or should I just go with it, and write whatever comes to mind?

And really, we all ask that question from time to time. We get an idea, get really excited and maybe want to leap straight into writing, and some people have to start writing straight away or they lose that spark, that fire, whatever it is that drives them to write the idea down. Others know from experience that they have to have at least an outline, while others still won’t consider drafting without detailed chapter by chapter break downs and six hundred colour coded notes on each character.

I’ve come to understand my own writing pattern fairly well and ever I still wonder whether I could do it better. I don’t plan too much. Mostly because I don’t look at any of my notes once I start writing the first draft. I just don’t. I close my eyes and type and when I feel my fingers slowing I read what I’ve written and sometimes start writing again and sometimes read blogs or tweets or go watch television or do some other work until I feel ready to write again.

However I never start a draft without having written out an outline and character profiles and concept maps. I have a notebook with all of these things in it. I just don’t use them once I’m writing.

My theory is it is a safety net. It’s like when I used to play the clarinet. I would practise a piece over and over again. I could play it perfectly. It could play it without ever actually looking at the music and I knew this because half the time I would forget to turn the page of the music. However, if someone took the music away I suddenly would freeze and wouldn’t be able to tell you what the first note was. The music was my safety net. I didn’t need it, but it made me feel like I knew what I was doing and so I was fine.

My note book with my plans is my safety net. If I get really, really stuck on something and I desperately want to finish it (though usually when I’m that stuck it is because what I’m working on is rubbish) I can go back and see where I was meant to be going and where I’ve gone wrong. That and I usually remember most of what I’ve written down in the book anyway and so I’m following the plan and just adding bits to it and tweaking it as I go.

And that works for me.

The advice I read many time, given to me by many of the bloggers out there, when I first started trying to write for something more than my own enjoyment was that every writer has to find what works for them. Read what others do and then try some of the different suggestions but don’t feel like there is some ‘right’ way to accomplish the task.

Incidentally, I would love to hear what is working for other people at the moment because I’m always looking for new ideas.



  1. manicddaily said,

    Thanks for your ideas. A notebook is really useful, as is not being completely tied to it!

  2. Stephen Tremp said,

    I gave u on that a long time ago. Now I write whenever I can. An hour in the morning, something in the afternoon, two hours at night. Things have been kinda crazy busy for me this year so I do what I can when I can. But I get things done and ultimately I’m concerned with the end result and not necessarily how I got there.

    Stephen Tremp

  3. Carol Kilgore said,

    Very good post. I totally agree that we all need to find what works for us. I write just about the way you do. Instead of a notebook, which I may try with the next project, I use colored cards and sticky notes for info specific to each main character and a yellow legal pad for main plot and time lines. But then I never look at them until I start revising and editing with the second draft.

    • Cassandra Jade said,

      I tend to lose sticky notes. Mostly because they are never as sticky as they claim to be.

  4. Barb said,

    I have a very generic outline (sometimes divided in chapters, one sentence each) and some characters ID (very loose as I have my own virtual cast firmly in mind). I have a notebook for the world’s history etc, I’ve been thinking to type everything on the computer for sometime now, maybe soon! 😉
    I like to “improvise” when writing that first handwritten draft and see where it takes me… also, I’m a writer who writes the bones first and later adds the meat: I write the whole story and then add descriptions/thoughts or adjust plot points. So far I’m the only one working this way… my very first drafts are usually too short for whatever they’re supposed to be (novel or screenplay) and need to be beefed up! 😀

    • Cassandra Jade said,

      The ‘see where it takes me’ method is sometimes the best. The writing seems to flow better.

  5. levimontgomery said,

    I learned a long time ago that I could plot and outline and notate all I wanted, and it wasn’t going to make any difference in the long run, because once the story wakes up and begins to unfold, all I’m going to do is follow along, writing down what it tells me. Yes, I know, it’s my own subconscious doing the telling, but the point is I’m never going to look at those notes and outlines again, or if I do, it will be too late. The things in there aren’t going to make sense in the story I’m actually telling, as opposed to the story I thought I was going to tell.

    I need to know at least two of the following three points before I begin: the beginning, the end, and somewhere in between that I call the middle, although it may well be far off-center in the finished story. I usually have all three before I get too far, and after that, it’s like blowing up a long thin balloon. It may start way up here, and it may start way down there, and it may start somewhere in the middle, but all you can do is huff and puff until it’s full.

    Then stop. That’s the most important part, right there.

    • Cassandra Jade said,

      Thanks for sharing your method. I find that as long as I know the beginning and more or less wehre I want to end the story tends to work.

  6. laurelrainsnow said,

    Very informative post…it made me rethink some of what I do. Usually I have a very basic idea about the story or book, which I flesh out as I go along. I start with character files, with descriptions, dates, settings…and add to these as I go.

    I’m here, reading blog posts and visiting blogs…when what I need to do is get back to my WIP! Sometimes I’m almost afraid to go there, just in case I have nothing more to say!

    But I love reading about other writers and their methods…

    • Cassandra Jade said,

      Thanks for sharing your method. It is great to see what other people are doing.

  7. Nikole Hahn said,

    I have a geneology mapped out. My characters are sketched out, but when the first draft is completed will be going through and creating index cards because I have made the mistake of forgetting the small details. My world is mapped, but unnamed. I did a very detailed chapter by chapter outline, but all ready almost halfway through have deviated from it. Still, it’s my fall back in case I can’t sludge through the dreaded middle. Got stuck there before. It wasn’t pretty. :o)

  8. emmiemears said,

    I was actually just thinking about this the other day. I plowed through my first book without ever writing anything down in outline form, aside from a few snippets and fragments that popped into my head and that I wanted to save for later. I’m working on a trilogy, though, and after I began the second book, I felt a bit overwhelmed and sat down to outline the rest of the trilogy. I have it split into super basic roman numerals headed with whatever character is the focus of that section, then under that I divide up chapters and jot down a few brief notes about the key plot points, significant details, and bits of continuity I want to add in. It’s helped a lot with the writing process for this novel — my slow progress notwithstanding.

    I actually feel a bit better when I “write blind,” as you put it. I’m with Levi on that one — all my outlines fall by the wayside when my characters get off their arses and start tugging me in whatever direction they see fit. I’m perfectly okay with that; I feel like my best writing happens when I’m just acting like the stenographer of the story and recording what they show me.

    • Cassandra Jade said,

      Thanks for sharing your method. And wishing you luck with your writing.

  9. Kyle said,

    See, after I wrote that post, I started using ywriter to outline my story. I have a list of the major locations, major characters, a few minor characters, some important items in the story, and have started writing short scene summaries so far. This is a bigger help for me than having a notebook, because if I ever need to go back to the safety net, all I have to do is clock over to another tab.

    • Cassandra Jade said,

      Ah, but the note book can sit directly in front of the screen. Plus, I like being able to throw it if something goes wrong. Say what you like about the merits of the digital age, most digital technology does not stand up to being tossed.

  10. AlexJ said,

    I prefer to outline before I begin writing. I think everyone just has to go with what works for them.

  11. Jane Kennedy Sutton said,

    I’m still a seat-of-the-pants writer who gets an idea in my head and starts writing. However, I’d probably be able to finish a manuscript faster if I approached it in a more organized manner.

    • Cassandra Jade said,

      I think we all just need to keep trying different approached until we know what works, and what definitely doesn’t work, for us.

  12. Alex Willging said,

    This is something I’ve had to figure out over the course of several years. Since I do all my writing on the computer, for every story I write, I keep a separate Word Document for the character info, the story outline, and all the key concept notes. Once I’m writing, I don’t usually need to check the notes or the character info, but I will refer to the outline just to be sure which scenes are worth keeping and which aren’t. So my setup is organized, but my actual writing needs to have its own organic flow.

    • Cassandra Jade said,

      Sounds similar to my method only your using word instead of a notebook. Best of luck with your writing.

  13. Jonathan said,

    Writing without any scaffolding has proven to be a cumbersome way for me to explore ideas. I don’t feel like I have enough time to go that route. I’ve been coming around to having a summary of events before writing. Right now I have a fifty page document with character and setting notes and a summary of my whole novel. I like the idea of knowing generally where I’m going, mostly as a way to conserve time. As I flesh out the story, it may change, but I can examine those changes in the context of the larger framework.

    Like you said, to each their own and it may take a while to figure out what works best. It sure is exciting when we do.

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