The first thing people have been asking me when I mention the novel I’m working on, is, “Do you use an outline?” I have an unpleasant visceral urge when I hear that word because I’m reminded of many years ago in school when we were told to do an outline for our essay that was supposed to be based on this pyramid thing which I won’t even try to explain as it’s probably ubiquitous for anyone who’s been part of the American educational system in the recent past. (I don’t know what they use now. I don’t doubt the pyramid is still in use. There’s something structurally sound and formidable about pyramids; it’s not entirely clear that that applies to the products that imitate it, however.)
I don’t know if I’d write if I couldn’t surprise myself with what I write. For me, an outline becomes a foregone conclusion. Maybe the outline I use is an amoebic idea in my head. Maybe I’m kidding myself, but realistically, I can never really know what I’m going to write until I write it.
If I try to write the idea down without actually writing the totality of the thing (in other words, actually writing down the scene that I have the idea for, rather than the shorthand of the idea), I may never write it. It’s best for me to start writing.
I grew up with a terrible unease about writing and my abilities as a writer until college and the passion for reading took over, but by then I believed I wasn’t a writer, even though I admired writers. I wasn’t yet able to imagine myself as one.
Interregnum: years in an architecture practice (of the building kind) that now funds a writing career. Success?
I was trying to explain to a friend the other night that for me, writing is now alchemical. I have spent enough time with words and in school hashing over words that they are in my blood. There’s a point where things topple over into a realm that I can’t rationally explain. Maybe this is what the best writing ultimately achieves. I think about the ten thousand hours notion, and am pretty certain I’ve done my ten thousand hours. (This is of course Malcolm Gladwell’s idea.)
I need sufficient disorientation to have to write my way out of something. In my daily writing practice, I find that I can cover ground I didn’t plan on covering because my approach relies on a fair amount of misdirection, intuition and perhaps mysticism. There’s a great moment of reading something over months later and not remembering that I wrote it. It’s even better when the work gets published; though I usually see things wrong, just as often I find things that I’m surprised by.