When my husband and I wrote our teleplay for a pilot called Game On a few years back, it was the most significant writing I had done in years. In my previous career I had published a few manuscripts on educational systems around the world, and contributed to another publication, but because these were reference materials I never gave much thought to the fact I was published. They didn’t count.
The opportunity to write a pilot for a half-hour sitcom came up and my husband and I did a sort of “wonder twin powers unite” thing and got to work. We had never collaborated on any project before and while it was not completely smooth sailing, we got the project finished as a team and it felt good. I was energized by this writing in a way that I hadn’t been in years.
One of the reasons we worked well together is that we both brought different strengths to the project. He was more the “outliner ” while I was the one who filled in the details. We’d go to lunch several times a week and discuss one liners and scenes together (and argued quite a lot about what was actually funny), then we’d come home and get to work.
Outlining My Own Process
When I began writing my current WIP, a novel, I felt lost. This was my own project–I didn’t have a partner to write the bones of the story for me. And at the beginning, when there are no words written, the empty page seems like an ocean of failure, not opportunity. I was overwhelmed, but still determined.
I knew almost from the start that I needed to work from an outline. Some authors don’t–I’m not one of them. The first thing I did was write what I thought would be the ten core scenes that would move the story forward. I say “thought” because over the last few months of writing, things have changed and those original 10 scenes have been moved around, updated, or taken out. Writing them, however, helped immensely during those first days of staring at the empty page.
I found it wasn’t enough, however, because I still didn’t have a clear vision of the beginning, middle, and end of my story and that was causing writer’s block. I wrote a 20 chapter outline with one-sentence descriptions and suddenly things really got started for me. I made notes where key actions had to occur to move the story forward (things such as turning points, complications, temporary triumph, etc). Though this 20 chapter outline has changed as well (and honestly, is missing a few points) it has been the true beginning of getting this novel written.
If you’ve never embarked on writing a novel before and don’t know where to start, I recommend trying the 20 chapter outline first. Don’t worry if you can’t fill in all twenty chapters–this will evolve over time and give you a mental image of the scenes that need to be written. Write the scenes that are clearest to you first, and they will spawn new scenes. If the 20 chapter outline doesn’t work, try something else. But most of all, start writing.