Monday, January 30, 2012

More on Outlining

"I think writer's block is God's way of telling you one of two things--that you failed to think your material through sufficiently before you started writing, or that you need a day or two off with your family and friends." - Terry Brooks

When I think about it, being a Dean really isn't all that complex of a task.  There are X number of classes each term, each of which needs a competent faculty member at its helm.  Each class also needs between a and b competent (more or less) students sitting at the other desks.  Each class needs a classroom and certain equipment.  The data that needs gathering must be gathered on a specific schedule, and filed in a specific way, and reported to specific people at accrediting, licensing, and state approval agencies.  Then, depending on season, certain events need to be organized.

See?  Not that hard.

Despite the relative ease I had in rattling off the major stuff to worry about, the fact is that if you follow six different Deans around for a few days you'll see six different approaches to the job.  We all have different priorities and personalities, and each of us arrived at the position through a different professional path, so the variance is easy to understand.

But terminology also gets in the way.  I once had another educational leader, one whom I respect greatly, look at me in shock and ask, "How can you not run..." um--might as well call it the TPS report here, as that name will mean about as much as any other.  She was floored.  Shocked.  Flabbergasted. Flibberty-gibbeted, even! 

I don't need to run that report, because the calculator application I have will do the same thing.  Once I showed her my process and explained what I did, she and I both realized that we were really just using two different terms, with slightly different approaches, for the same process.  Nothing to get excited over.  Move along, people, move along.

All this brings me inexorably back to writing, as I'm sure you assumed it would eventually.  More specifically, it brings me back to one part of the writing process known as Outlining.

One of my current Reads In Process (a RIP?) is Terry Brooks's Lessons From A Writing Life: Sometimes The Magic Works.  It's good.  It's kind of the same thing Stephen King (the other one) did in On Writing, but Brooks has the advantage of writing in the same genre as me.  I plan on discussing more of its contents once I'm done RIPing it, but for now I'll just admit to being stuck on the topic of Outlining.

Everybody talks about Outlining.  To some, it's a great demon that eats away at a writer's time and creative energy.  To others, it's the bedrock that makes the story's pathways solid.  Brooks is in the latter group.  King is in the former.  To read Brooks quote King on the topic as he did in Sometimes the Magic Works, in fact, just tickles me.

Getting to the core of the question, though, I have to admit that I do Outline, just never in public for everybody to see.  Here's why:

Outlining has always, to me, meant to the process of grudgingly writing "I. Introduction" followed by a carriage return, and then "A. Opening Paragraph."  When I get sparky with it, I include some details in the outline on what that opening paragraph might do or say.  Problem is, once I'm all done with the work of crafting a Roman numeral-based structure for the work, I no longer have any desire to do the actual writing.  That's why I don't do it unless given the requirement by a classroom teacher.

Other writers feel the same, apparently.  Brooks quotes Terry McMillan and Anne McCaffrey, both, who share their disdain for the process of outlining.  This seems to be one of those things where if you follow half a dozen authors around for a few days--well, you'll probably be bored enough to eat your laptop, because writing is a much more quiet and solitary exercise than is running a college.  Still, I'll bet there'd be six different methods of Outlining represented if you managed it.

Part of that, of course, comes down again to terminology.  Brooks points out that an outline doesn't have to have Roman numerals.  All an outline is, he 'splains, is a method for organizing your book.  Oh, sorry--should be capital O Organizing.  A book, you see, is a fairly significant amount of prose and represents a fairly significant length of time when measured from start to finish.  Those of us who can't recall what we had for breakfast yesterday (and I exaggerate a bit, as I made a frittata, but still, the point is valid that my memory is--um, what was I talking about?) have a hard time remembering plot details that long.  Thus, I do Outline, and I have my scraps of paper with the outlined information on it floating around my desk happily waiting to be needed. And the only thing resembling a Roman numeral on the whole mess is actually the first person singular, objective pronoun. 

See?  Same thing, different approach.  It's just that my organization is a little less organized that some other people's organization is.

And it's probably not changing anytime soon.


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