The power of a visual outline

I will admit it. About a month or so ago I sat down and just started writing my story for Invictus. I just let the words pour out across my computer screen, the cursor barely stopping to blink as my hands went flying across the keyboard. I was impressed at how much just poured out. But then, the cursor was blinking. And then it blinked some more, just sitting there, waiting for me to type out my next word or even just a letter that would form something coherent. But nothing came. I saved it and closed the document.

The problem? I had no idea where I wanted to go with my story. Sure, I will probably use some of what I wrote that day but it was just free writing. I needed a roadmap or it would go nowhere fast.

I will admit it. I used to just kind of start typing stories and shape them as I went. But quite frankly, that’s hard to do and not efficient. It leads to bouncing around and not really having a concrete focus of where I want to go so I end up 180 degrees from where I want to be.

What I’ve learned is this-never underestimate the power of outlining. And never ever underestimate the power of a visual outline. My spare bedroom in my apartment currently has notecards and post-its taped to the stark white walls forming my outline, sticking out like a sore thumb. It makes it super easy to outline because you can easily move parts around- a single scene or an entire chapter. This will be helpful because as I write and edit, my fellow writers or I may suggest that the story should be re-arranged. I’ve already re-arranged it multiple times from its original form so I know it will take a few more times before it’s the way I want it.

Now I know the direction I’m heading. I’m not just recalling things that have happened in my life and writing them down as I go. There is a method to the chaos.

I will admit it. Within my first year of graduate school, I now always outline any story or paper visually first. Free writing in a way worked for awhile but now I wonder why I ever did that. Why did I make it so hard on myself? With an outline, I know the whole story. I don’t have to guess where it will start or how it will end. I know. I am in control of that from the beginning.

The good news? With the help of the colorful additions to my usually white wall, I now have a layout of what my story could be. As a writer, having direction to a story is very important… and it’s also a big relief. That doesn’t mean it won’t change or that parts won’t be added or taken away, but I’m not completely lost, aimlessly typing until the cursor sits blinking on the computer screen.