Saturday, May 15, 2010

Where Are You Going?

Yesterday I was having drinks in celebration of my wife who just became a PhD and I got into a conversation with a fellow playwright.  He also happens to be a PhD candidate and is struggling with writing his prospectus—which is like an outline of what he is going to write for his dissertation.  He feels this exercise is a waste of time because the prospectus is due before he takes a six week trip to delve into archives.  Who knows what he may find there that will change the argument of his dissertation.  So why bother?

I told him it’s a helpful exercise even if he decides to change everything.  Which seems like foolish advice, but here’s why I say this.  

I used to hate outlining plays and screenplays.  (He says he never outlines his plays when he writes.)  An outline is like having a map.  You don’t need to use the map or follow your plans.  You can take detours, but its nice to know there was a plan that you could use if you needed to.  

I love getting derailed.  I love when characters surprise me, but I can’t always count on it.  The writing process is particular to each project so you never know how it will unfold.  

Yes, you should dig into the archive (both literal and figurative) and see how that changes your story and changes your plans.  An outline is not meant to be prescriptive.  It’s a tool to help you frame your thoughts and ask yourself:

Where do I want to go?  How will I get there?

If you don’t ask those questions in the beginning, you might just end up lost.

(And not like LOST the TV show.  I mean, lost.)

Seriously, you use Google maps to plan your drives, why not use some of that energy to plan your writing?

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