The Art of Creativity, Systems, and Miracles

Outlining: one way to eat writer's block.

Outlining: one way to beat writer’s block.

With a basic story premise approved, it was time for me to move on to the how and the what of story writing. This has been proving something of a challenge.

There have been many attempts over the years to find and market the ‘perfect’ method of writing a book. A quick search will bring up several systems developed to standardise and so focus a writer’s approach. For some writers these aids can be very useful – providing a logical framework to hang their work from. For others, sad to say, it’s an ineffective way of compensating for lack of talent. I know in this politically correct age I’m not supposed to write stuff like this, but no amount of practicing the piano is going to make me Beethoven, and I’m never going to win Got to Dance, The Voice, or any other TV talent show. Hopefully, I do possess the basic ability to string some decent words together. Practice and systems can only polish what’s already there; only a miracle can create something from nothing.

What’s this got to do with Out of the Darkness? I’ve mentioned before that I’m a natural pantser (writing ‘by the seat of my pants’), but when I tried to tackle version two of the plot in my usual style I hit a wall after two thousand words. Pantsers need springboards: launchpads for their ideas. I’d been waiting for a week for Frontier to clarify several aspects of the Elite: Dangerous universe but unfortunately these aspects are central, affecting multiple aspects of the setting and game play. They want to answer my questions, I know they do (bless their little cotton socks), but they can’t, at least not at the moment. So, I managed a few dives into the shallow end of the story, then nothing, just the dreaded writer’s block.

When a little essential family stuff came up I thought, Good, something else to occupy me for a few days and then I’ll come back fresh to writing – a change usually unbungs the old creativity. Not this time – there still wasn’t enough ‘stuff’ to fire my engine. I was also still hoping for the Frontier Miracle Email: the one that would create something from nothing. Its status remains ‘pending’. No miraculous bailouts this time.

I was becoming just a little frustrated. (Hair pulling and teeth grinding had, thus far, prevented damage to my PC and restrained me from writing deeply embarrassing and undignified begging emails to Frontier: ‘Pwitty, pwitty, pwease can I have an up-to-date galactic map? Just a little one? In pencil?’) There was only one option left. It was something so desperate, so radical, so innovative, that its like had never been tried before. I was going to have to attempt an Outline!!! Dunn, dunn, duuuuunnnn! Strangely enough it wasn’t as hard as I thought, at least not for a story in this genre. (No, I’m not telling you anything yet until things are more concrete – approvals are still required. I’ve read enough blogs by other writers where they’ve written ‘the story goes like this’ and ‘it’s set here’ posts only to retract or modify them a few weeks later.) So, after a day spent brainstorming I have a rough outline for the central arc of the story. No miracles, and no pantsering. I used a tried and tested system, and what do you know? It actually worked.

The moral: never be afraid to try new ways of doing things. Next week I will be writing standing on my head, wearing sock puppets of my main characters on my feet while rubbing raw chilli into my armpits and humming The Blue Danube. Well, why not? I didn’t think outlining would help either…

Image credit: original writer’s block picture, ‘Stress‘ © olly at

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2 Responses to The Art of Creativity, Systems, and Miracles

  1. Steve Jeyes says:

    Hi TJ

    Great update. Glad to hear things are rolling again. Mind if I ask what method you used for writing your ‘Outline’?


    • TJames says:

      Thanks for dropping by, Steve.

      To be honest, many writers would probably not class what I did as an outline. I brainstormed sequential ideas for the plot onto a pad of paper. Two days and four pages later I knew, roughly, where the story was going.

      A more thorough method, I believe, is a chapter and scene summary of the whole story. Scene summaries list characters present, plot points and story arc developments, crucial changes/growth of characters etc. Some writers use aims, i.e. Scene 2, Chapter 3: Resolve cliff hanger from chapter one, reunite protagonist (main character) with his love interest, illustrate their relationship to readers. Exit with question regarding their future together because of her space sickness. That kind of thing. Some outline the setting of the scene too, and any important objects (e.g. protagonist’s spaceship) present to enable tracking through a document (symbols like % can be used to search and label through a document).

      I hope that’s some help. If not just search for ‘writing a story/novel outline’ on the web and there are loads of useful blog entries by experienced writers on the topic.

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