You know more than you think you do. – Benjamin Spock
I’m almost entirely opposed to outlines in my own work, especially my creative work. Maybe I’d make an exception if I went back to academic writing, but I hope that isn’t going to happen so . . .
Outlines – at least for me – kill the energy of a piece. They push me into my head, force me to look for balance and arc and momentum too soon. They hold me too tight to the path I sculpt and curb discovery and whimsy. I find them stifling, which is not to say you should. It’s just true for me.
I prefer to build my drafts as I did when I was a child writing songs – letting one line come upon the next without much conscious thought, my eyes following the power lines as we drove and my lips forming words I did not yet recognize as such. I prefer to discover what I know or feel or believe without shape because within me it does not hold form – it sparks and weaves and turns on itself, a dervish whirling into worship without a number of spins in hand.
Children tells stories this way. They begin without knowing just where things will go. A princess arrives at the gates of a mountainside castle, her sword drawn, and we know nothing further until we see her swing her legs down and advance on the gate.
Or maybe I’m more like my dog Meander who leaves the house with her nose to the air. The story of another living creatures passes by her nostrils, and she’s on the move, trailing it as it winds through the yard. Sometimes, she sprints to life across the field. Sometimes, she wanders back to the porch, content with a small journey for the day.
Yesterday, I had the honor of speaking with a writer who reminded me that much of life is about intuition when lived with passion, that the way we choose houses or spouses or vocations is often about listening to the spark of spirit within is. It is that quiet voice of wisdom that I try to honor with my days and with my words. It is that hushed speech that led me to name our farm, God’s Whisper.
So here, then, are three ways I force myself to write without a plan and with an ear to my heart:
1. I write fast. Far too fast for me to be able to analyze much of what I’ve said until I said it. I type out my work for this reason, and sometimes, I rewrite it by hand so that I can see exactly what it is I’ve said.
2. I picture myself facing the inside of myself. This sounds odd, I know, but I imagine myself turning inward, almost inside out, and listening carefully to the voice that comes from inside of me. Sometimes I even cock my head to listen better.
3. I do my very best not to censor or even change what I am saying in the first draft. I go wherever the words lead me, even if something in my brain is telling me it’s misguided. I don’t trust my brain when I draft. I trust my heart.
I do not in any way say that others should eschew outlines – use whatever you need to get the words down on the page. But for me, the intuitive, wending journey is the one that serves my spirit best.
And you? What do you prefer – the unmapped journey or the carefully planned route you’ve built for yourself?