Craft Quote #3 – To Outline Or Not To Outline?


When I start to write, I don’t have any plan at all. I just wait for the story to come. I don’t choose what kind of story it is or what’s going to happen. – Haruki Murakami

Haruki Murakami is the author of international bestsellers, Norwegian WoodKafka on the Shore, and The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle known for experimental writing and narrators who deal with love, isolation, and fantastical experiences.

Murakami is not the only proclaimed writer to prefer little to no story planning, George R R Martin (author of A Song of Snow and Ice, later on released by HBO as series Game of Thrones) calls himself a writer of the gardener variety; one who has a general idea of the seed of the story, what genre it is, but let’s it grow mostly untamed and explored during growth. Architect writers are their opposites. They build a story knowing the blueprints of the plot, the family tree, flaws of each character, and a likely ending. Writers can typically be divided into two categories; those who outline and those who do not. I am in the latter group. For me, creativity flows more fluidly when it is not in the constraints of an outline and needing to know how the story is going to end. Multiple outlines for dystopian science fiction stories sit in my writing desk  drawer, and although they are great in theory, they have amounted to nothing more than hours spent note taking rather than writing the story. Opening a blank page of a word doc or notebook can be daunting, but writing without a plan or desired ending takes a lot of that pressure off and can end in much more productive writing sessions.

Do you write outlines or no? Why does this practice work for you?

Back to the Land of Writers

What have I been doing? Where the hell have I been? I’m settling back into reality and getting back to work after leaving a paradise of four dollar meals, including alcoholic beverages and tip. Insane paradise. I spent the past few weeks in Cambodia and the Philippines, and it was as great as you would imagine. I have sleuths of pictures and my creative writing professor “assigned” homework for me; to write down things that no one else notices about these places. I’m not sure how close I stuck to the guidelines, but took a lot of notes on the inner workings of a Filipino restroom, and how it feels to get a five dollar massage from a girl you’re sure should be in class.

I’ve been back for two weeks and have barely worked. Also, as great as you would imagine. Although I haven’t been posting here, all this idle time has allowed me to read and write a lot more. But now it’s time to come back to the land of writers.

What have I been reading? Lots of lit magazines. The best company during my six hour bus ride from Phnom Phem to Siem Reap was the Summer Reading issue of Tin House magazine. Someone once told me it’s good to know what people are writing right now, and personally I love finding lots of different authors in one space – it’s a good way of finding new writers. I’ve since been reading the latest Faith issue and picked up a copy of Golf Coast magazine I’m excited to get into. I bought a cheap copy of Norwegian Wood at an airport on the way to Puerto Princesca and have been reading Haruki Murakami ever since. After inhaling Norwegian Wood I started his collection of short stories Blind Willow, Sleeping Woman, which has not been a disappointment either. The writing is simple, mysterious, and descriptive. I also read We Need to Talk About Kevin and Between the World and Me. I’ll have reviews up for these soon.

What have I been writing? Well, I edited A Stranger in a Strange Place (which really needs a better title, but that’s something I’m struggling with), sent it to a podcast show called The Jammiest Bits, and was welcomed to read my story for the upcoming May episode. Whoop!  The reading is supposed to be around ten minutes but mine came up to a solid twenty five. Ah, well it’s all about pacing.

Inspired by my trip, I’ve started taking notes on a potential short story where something horrible occurs in a utopic location. I’m hoping this story will be a lot shorter than my last, but we’ll see how that goes. My husband and I are planning to move to San Francisco by the end of the year so I’ve been fluffing up my resume and looking for freelance writing opportunities. They are not easy to come by and, like most careers, requires some prior experience. So I’m stuck between the proverbial rock and hard place until I find a simple job to do to build up on. But, that’s about all the new writer related things that have happened recently. I’m off to check one way flight tickets to Vietnam for next year, I find life is most bareable when you’re in between vacations.

Have you read any good books or lit magazines lately? What projects are you working on?

Mid-July TBR List: The Overhyped, Marvelous Murakami, and Short Stories

My July reading list has only managed to come together in mid July. Thank you numerous unwarranted trips to the bookstore! Thank you and your lure of infinite books and fast delivery at my fingertips! Because of this I have been finicky over a now large selection of unread books to choose from, starting one until another arrives and I think No, I have to start this one now. But I have finally narrowed it down to three that will fill out the rest of this month.

The Fault in Our Stars, John Green

I have crawled out from under my rock and left the comfort of hibernation to read The Fault in Our Stars, as hyped as it is. I saw a trailer for the film before hearing about the book and it completely deterred me from wanting any part of it’s YA form. Nor with it’s plot, or with it’s sickly characters and sudden teenage love. But Hollywood has the ability to take a great book and market it to sell regardless of whether it reflects the story accurately. These are usually a re-imagining rather than a strict recreation.

When Hazel’s terminal tumor relents thanks to a medical miracle, she is bought a few more years of life. While at a Cancer Kid Support Group she meets Augustus Waters, a brilliant boy who allows her to see a new side of life, being in love.

I hope the book deals with Hazel’s real feelings about her diagnosis and knowing she is going to die as equally, if not more than, it talks about the Augustus and Hazel’s relationship. I don’t want it to be like The Lovely Bones, where a much greater issue lies within the story but all boils down to Susie wanting to have sex with her crush. I want it to deal with Hazel’s mortality and not have the power of love cure everything. I can not deny the book has something that has everyone raving, and my guess is the plot is great.

I also bought Paper Towns for good measure, but I will save that for next month.

Hardboiled Wonderland and the End of the World, Haruki Murakami

There is a weird level of excitement within me considering I have never read any of Murakami’s work, but I am positive I will enjoy it. His stories are well written and often take the strange of fantasy and science fiction, which are all wonderful in my mind. After reading a few passages across his books I decided to first dip my toes into Hardboiled Wonderland and the End of the World. The synopsis is painfully vague, only revealing that amoung a gang of oddball happenings – deranged scientists, unicorn skulls, and Bob Dylan (?) – a man falls into the underworld of contemporary Tokyo, uniting tragedy and comedy.

Murakami’s labeling as a controversial fiction writer and my urge to read international literature more will be soothed by this read!

The Brink, Austin Bunn

I picked up this book for two reasons:

1. Sometimes, I judge books by their covers.

2. I like short stories and enjoy seeing how other writers deal with this form of story telling.

Flipping through to find a passage at random I read of one character being “pleasantly retarded” after too much drink. I put it into my basket because I had read enough. This is Austin Bunn’s book debut and the stories within explore what happens at “the end” (I spot a theme) and beyond that. The stories span a wide range of plots; In “How To Win an Unwinnable War”a summer class on nuclear war somehow leads to the destruction of a family. Videogamers fall in love in the virtual world in “Griefer”. Despite the diversity of these stories all the characters go through changes in their lives and deal with solitude, which I find interesting because right now I am writing a short that deals with this. Something tells me this will be a fun read.