Here Be Dragons: The 140,000 Word Outline

English: St George's Hall, Liverpool Stained g...

Shown: Me figuring out the outline for the second draft. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

So, those of you who’ve been here a while—or read through some of the archives—know that my Big Project, the one that’s taking up nearly all of my writing time at the moment, is the re-write of The Patchwork King. PWK* was last year’s NaNoWriMo project. You can read about the gradual descent of my sanity level here, and here, and here. I finished NaNo by the nineteenth, but that wasn’t the end. I went all the way to the end of the first draft, which took me to the second week of January. It ended up being 140,000 words or thereabouts. Printed off, it’s a phonebook.**

After I was done, I shoved it in a metaphorical drawer on my hard drive and let it sit. I did other stuff, and came back to it  a while ago. I read it over, made a lot of notes, thought about the story and the characters, generally devoted a good amount of brain run time to it. Then, when I’d finished thinking, I looked at what I had.

And that’s when I realized that what I had was a 140,000 word outline. Of stuff that doesn’t necessarily happen any more.

Now here’s the important bit: when I made that realization, I did not a) give up, b) throw away the manuscript in disgust, or c) drink heavily.*** Why not? After all, hadn’t I just wasted months of my life on a manuscript that was now worthless?

Of fucking course not.****

Pay close attention, children, because here’s the magic: that flawed, doomed manuscript was exactly what I needed. It is a map. With all the pitfalls and dead ends marked out and Here Be Fucking Dragons scrawled in the margins.

With this, I can rewrite. With this, I have something to fix. As long as my enthusiasm for the story holds. And it does. I know this one will be good. All it needs is work. Hard work, admittedly, but if you’re going to shy away from that you might as well not write at all.

So, those of you who are NaNo-ing along, or those of you who have a damaged manuscript on your hands, stand fast and fear not. You can fix this. Just remember that the end of the first draft is not necessarily the end of the project.

*Acronyms are cool. Shut up.
**And the phonebook of a proper city, too, not the mini-version we get out here in the boonies.
***Only lightly.
****Knowing where to add the swear word properly in any phrase is an advanced writer skill.

5 thoughts on “Here Be Dragons: The 140,000 Word Outline

  1. Ha ha! I totally know where you’re coming from with having a very long outline. I’ve been there before and am still trying to work things into shape with mine.

    I love your encouraging thought about your manuscript being a useful map, with the pitfalls already marked. In the end it leads to something that can be fixed. That gave me a real boost to get back writing 🙂

  2. I know how that goes. I overwrote far too much on my first book, then pared down, then overwrote again… I’m trying to avoid that with my pet project. Writing bare skeletons for plot, character development, the core. Then fill in with details here and there. I just got tired of cutting things out, it’s like removing a growth from the body, necessary but ugly (and a little painful).

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