Brothers and sisters, I have seen the light. And it is good. Hallelujah!
I’ve been writing little things here and there since childhood—poems, parodies, short pieces—but it wasn’t until a sunny July morning in 2011 that I was struck by an idea. A real idea. One I knew was the seed of something big and beautiful.
I had no clue what I was in for.
Day by day, that seed began to blossom. I jotted down every stray thought that drifted into my head until I had enough material to scrape into a semi-cohesive story. But it was like putting a puzzle together without the picture on the box to guide me. And there were missing pieces. And a few pieces from other puzzles had found their way into the mix. Also a few Legos.
Finally, after eight years of pain and frustration, writing and rewriting, it came time to reach out to an editor. Yes, you read that correctly. Eight excruciating years. But it was done. I could lay my weary head to rest.
Then I made a terrible mistake. I was struck by another idea.
It was agony. Another eight years of wandering in the dark, grasping for a plot I couldn’t quite find until I accidentally stumbled into it? That first time had been hell. I couldn’t bring myself to go through it again. But neither could I leave this idea out in the cavernous recesses of my hollow brain to die. I had to get it out somehow.
That’s when I found a simple solution: outlining.
I downloaded a three-act story structure template and began filling it in with my ideas. Within two days, I had a complete story. No, it wasn’t a full novel or even a first draft. It was a mere 5,000 words on a bullet-point document. But it was a direction. A map. A text to reference any time I needed guidance in uncertain times. It seemed almost too easy, like I was cheating. Seriously, the first draft basically wrote itself in a few short months. Only one question remained unanswered: Why doesn’t everyone do it this way?
Soon after this epiphany, I was struck by another idea. And another. As an aspiring novelist, it was everything I’d prayed for. And everything I’d once dreaded. Boy, does the Lord work in mysterious ways.
Some people might have been at a loss for what to do with all these fledgling novels hatching at once, demanding sustenance from their overburdened mother. I once would have counted myself among them. But now I have a light to guide me in the darkness. Whenever a new idea hits me, I spend a few days—maybe a week or two—filling in blanks on a template. As long as I follow that guide, I will not stumble. Prodigal
son daughter that I once was, I have learned my lesson and will not take the indulgent, wayward path of a Discovery writer again. Yes, I still use my Discovery skills to do the initial "brain dump" when an idea first strikes, develop characters, and fill in little story holes whenever they appear. But I’m no longer completely reliant on my old ways. I never would have thought this before trying it, but outlining has made writing faster, easier, and a hell of a lot more fun.
Can I get an amen?
Now I make my alter call. Who will heed my words and try the life of an Outliner? True, my way is not the right way for everyone. But I know there is a Discovery writer out there now, tangled up in a meandering story they cannot finish, or with a messy manuscript they’re on the verge of tossing out. I know because I was once that person. If that's you right now, I challenge you to set aside your wandering ways and try the life of an Outliner. My testimony alone might not be enough to convince you. But give it a chance. You just might choose that straight and narrow path for yourself.