How Rules Can Free A Writer’s Mind

I won’t be posting an excerpt from my novel this week. I’m just not at a place today where I have anything polished enough or complete enough for a blog post. But I do have something for you guys! And I have been working.

Tonight I will post something given to me by an old friend. It is something that has helped me immeasurably in my quest to make real progress on my novel and on writing in general.

Organizing Thoughts

When writing, I frequently suffer from what I call Overload-itis. My mind gets so full with big ideas that they weigh me down like cinder blocks and I get totally stuck. For this reason, I am terrible at starting things. And because I am a perfectionist, I often overwhelm myself with minutia even after I get going.  My usual thought process used to go something like this:

*Random idea pops into head
*Decide to add random idea to story
*Random idea branches into several tangential possible plotlines
*Can’t decide where plotlines fit in with story
*Get stuck on inconsequential detail of inconsequential sub-plotline
*No longer remember original idea
*Head explosion

With this kind of thought process, writing can quickly become work and lose its appeal.

Understanding my… eccentric mind, my friend drafted a rough outline template to help me when I write. It has worked wonders! Of course, the process will be different for everybody, but this has really worked for me. With a few tweeks, maybe this can help some of you guys with organizing your thoughts as well.

Here is what she sent to me verbatim, minus the Comic Sans font:



1.Set out a 4 page document 1st page title “Rough Outline”, 2nd page “Events to be Added Later”, 3rd page “Character Sketches”, 4th page “Recurring Themes, Symbols”

2a. Read through every scene you’ve already written
2b. As you read through each scene, summarize it briefly – as few words as you can only enough to trigger your mind to remember which scene you’re talking about.
2c. If you can figure out right away where you want it in the book, put it as a bullet on your first page, if it starts to frustrate you cuz you can’t think of the order, put it on the second page – this part should go quick you either know where or you don’t choose a page and move to the next scene

3. If what you’ve written is an idea or theme, summarize it briefly and put on 4th page

4. Each time you come across a character, put the name in a bullet on the third page

5. To build their “Sketches” either
A. Jot down character traits as you come across them while your reading over
B. Wait til you’ve read through everything then write a jist of how each character has developed so far

6. Start writing! Where ever you want, but now you can add to your outline every time you write a scene, think of a new event you want to happen, a new theme you’d like to explore, or develop a character; but don’t make it something you “have” to do but rather something that is helping you. If you don’t feel like adding to the outline after every scene, don’t just keep writing. Whenever you feel your losing track of your ideas, go back through everything and update your outline.

7. Occasionally read through your outline – see if you’ve decided where to put events on page two, make sure your developing your characters on page 3, and make sure your adding the themes you wanted on page 4

8. Give this womanzy kiss


This type of loose organization has really helped me keep my thoughts together, while at the same time freeing my mind from the distracting minutia that impedes creativity. Of course I have adjusted it a little bit over time to suit my own writing style, but the general principles remain intact. The point is, sometimes it helps to create a loose set of rules. Guiding rules can give our writing purpose and actually promote the creativity that gets lost in the mess of our minds.

Happy Writing!


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