There are Times I Hate Writing.

Week 48

There are times I truly hate writing. Not so much the effort to get it down on paper, or the exponential time it takes to edit and get it “right”; but the pretzel-like contortions I have to go through to get my vision to fit someone else’s preconceived notions of how it should be. Specifically, an outline and/or synopsis according to the current ideas that somehow relate to commercial value.

NOTE: that “how it should be” also often translates to the other person’s “how I would have written it.” And, yes, it’s been said in those words to me before. My reaction that one time wasn’t pretty. Right up there with someone criticizing my housekeeping; i.e., ”if you don’t like the way I do it, do it your own damned self” and the argument escalated from there. Suffice it to say, I’d rather not respond to that particular statement at this point in my life. I’m too old for that crap.

My biggest gripe right now is people/agents/nudniks expecting an outline and/or synopsis for a piece I’ve not even finished. Let me say it plainly: I loathe making outlines for anything other than a non-fiction, analytical and wholly unimaginative piece. Such has been my experience with them.

Case in point, and here we’re going back about 40 years (You young whippersnappers with the Internet and iPhones can go ahead and roll your eyes. As Aunty Acid observes, maybe you’ll find a brain back there). Anyway, I had the assignment to research, outline and then write a twenty-five (25) page paper for a final grade in a 12th grade English class. This, children, involved multiple trips to the library and a multitude of paper cuts going through a card catalog for resources. Then I had to track down the resources, hoping the book wasn’t checked out, and reading with note-taking pen and paper at the ready.

Then came the outlines. This particular teacher wanted us to have the full experience. Translation: the full torture. Our first outline could be in the structurally patterned phrases that most of us are familiar with. Then we had to do a second outline, putting the headings, subheadings and details into complete sentences. And only then could we write the paper (that is, type it on a manual typewriter), following the outline to the letter.

I will admit I learned a great deal with this exercise; the sheer doggedness of it served me well in writing college papers I really didn’t care about. However, I never used that extensive a process in anything creative and, I repeat, to this day, I loathe outlines. They serve as little more than milestones telling me how much longer I have to stay awake to finish the assignment. That’s no way to write.

When I write nowadays, I write to tell a story. Yes, I write with a beginning and an end in mind, but I let the story and characters take it from there. There are times in the middle that I feel as if I am following one of the children in the “Family Circus” cartoon strip, but it has always proved worth the wandering. Ideas, thoughts and possibilities come in a way that no imposed strait jacket of outline could ever allow. The story hits all my senses and, before long, if I’m doing it correctly, the characters will have their say. They have insights and twists I never imagined before I started listening. Sometimes it works; sometimes it’s for another time, another story. This is not my teacher’s writing. This is not the way I have had to teach students to write. It’s messy, it can get confusing, but it is the joy I find in writing. And cleaning up is what editing is for.

At best, outlines are maps. Detailed to the tenth of a mile with perhaps an X at the end. They’re fine if you’re in a rush to get to your next destination, but they won’t give you much about the beauty and wonder you’ll go rushing by to get from Point A to Point B. I use maps. Heaven knows I’d have been lost for good dozens of times without one.

Me, I don’t write maps. And frankly, I wouldn’t want to read one for “pleasure” or to experience another world. Would you?

Please understand, I’m not naïve. I’ve had to deal with the realities of publishing which requires this kind of speculation. But I don’t have to like it.

And I don’t have to like the way it makes me hate writing.

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