On multi-tasking and outlines

Wow, looking over my past half-dozen posts it seems like I’ve been a busy little reader, haven’t I? And you might be asked, “So what happened to the writing, huh?”

Well, if you follow my page on Facebook, you know I’ve been busy on that front, too. Turns out, maybe I’ve been a little too busy. In the past two months I’ve worked on:

  • the third Laurel Highlands novel
  • a new novel with a new main character
  • a short-story with said new character, trying to get to know her
  • a completely different short-story in response to next year’s Bouchercon anthology open call

Turns out, it’s a bit too much.

If you do a simple Google search, you’ll find scads of articles warning of the dangers of multi-tasking. How it shatters concentration, actually makes things take longer because of the transition time your brain needs, and how a dilution of effort and attention results in an inferior product.

Now, maybe you are one of those brilliant people who can focus on fifty different creative endeavors at the same time and all of them turn out just as you imagined.

It ain’t me.

Oh, I thought I could do it. I could schedule the transitions between projects so I could work one thing at a time, but sequentially. What happened was:

  • the third Laurel Highlands novel is a hot mess
  • both projects with the new character are stalled and refuse to work
  • the short-story is done, and is languishing in a corner, collecting dust

As of today, I’m stopping the madness. It doesn’t work. What I should have done was particpate in NaNoWriMo and finished Draft Zero of the third Laurel Highlands story. Then I could have revised knowing the end, and comments would have come at the appropriate time – when I knew what I was doing. That poor project STILL doesn’t have a title (Book 3 is simply not marketable) and I STILL am not convinced I know “whodunit.”

So I’m taking my critique group’s advice. I will submit no more pages until the draft is done and I have reverse-outlined the story so I have a firmer grip on things.

Speaking of outlines…

I tried it again. I got all the major ideas written down and tried to outline the story. Just a few chapters at a time, and eventually I had the book. Suggestions from critique scrapped that first outline and I did a second. Then a third.

None of them have survived.

I know many authors swear by the outline and say it’s impossible to write a mystery novel without one. But I’m sorry. I’m not one of them. No, I need to spill out that messy Draft Zero and then I can outline as I revise. “Reverse outlining,” as one of my critique partners called it yesterday. I’ve tried the forward outline. Really, I have. What I end up with doesn’t feel solid. And it leads to me opening the door a little too early. Stephen King says “write with the door closed; edit with the door open.”

I’m trying to do both and, um, no. Just, no.

So back to the beginning I go. You’d think I’d have learned this lesson ages ago. I vaguely remember learning them.

Apparently, I need to learn them again.

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