Time Is Running Out, and Outlines

In today’s Journal

* Time Is Running Out
* Outlines and Writing Nonfiction
* Of Interest
* The Numbers

Time Is Running Out

Just a reminder—

The Daily Journal Is the Only Place Online where you can get myth-free, down-in-the-weeds, nuts-and-bolts writing advice on a regular basis.

  • On May 31 after this Journal goes live, I’ll move all paid subscribers over to a new subscriber list.
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I’ve already deleted the StoneThread Publishing Newsletter and will soon delete Harvey Stanbrough Writing in Public. If you’re subscribed to one of those, I recommend subscribing to Stanbrough Writes. Lot of good short stories over there.

After May 31, if you go to read the Journal at the website (hestanbrough.com) you’ll get only an excerpt, then be prompted to subscribe to continue reading.


Outlines and Writing Nonfiction

I had a great few questions from a free Journal subscriber. It seemed to me it might interest others, so I decided to use the question and my response as a Journal topic.

The Questions

The writer wrote, “You have published several non-fiction books, mainly for writers. Did you do an outline at any point on any of these or was it all WITD?

“Also, how did you do the outline, if there is anything special to say about creating it, and how did that information later translate into the actual writing? Did you cycle back later as we do with fiction?”

My Response

Obviously, writing a nonfiction book is vastly different from writing a short story or a novel.

With nonfiction, you’ll attempting to convey to others something you already know. To write an authentic short story or novel, you simply report what’s unfolding around you as you run through the story with the characters.

So yes, for nonfiction books, I usually do an outline.

Not formally, with Roman numerals and all that. I just make a list of topics and subtopics I want to be sure to discuss in the book. The full outline usually becomes the extended table of contents (TOC).

I’ve been at this fiction-writing thing for so long that I often take for granted some concepts that other writers don’t know. So I construct the outline of sorts mostly so I won’t forget to include something the eventual reader will need or want to know.

The outline usually evolves, too. As I construct it, if I think of more subtopics to list under a particular topic, I go back and add them.

For Writing Better Fiction, for example, I revised the outline (TOC) several times as new topics or subtopics occurred to me. Both my “Simple TOC” (the chapter and appendix heads) and the “Updated (final) TOC,” which includes all the subtopics,  went through several iterations before I actually published the book.

All of that said, once a topic or subtopic was established, I wrote the text for the topic or subtopic into the dark.

It was a little different though, and mostly boring for me, because I already know everything I was writing. The only parts that are not written into the dark are examples I pulled from previous writings.

And yes, I go back over each topic and subtopic, primarily to be sure I haven’t omitted anything or to clarify something I wrote initially. This is partly cycling and partly conscious-mind revision.

This is an important distinction. I never allow my conscious mind to enter into my fiction writing in any way.

In fiction, I’m responsible to the characters. So I simply writing whatever happens as I run through the story with them and as the story unfolds around us in real time. Everything in the story is spontanous and new to both me and the characters.

In cycling through fiction, only the characters have any authority since they’re the ones who are actually living the story. The characters and I are as surprised at how things unfold as the eventual readers will be. (That’s why those who read my fiction are a little fanatical about it.)

But in a nonfiction work, my responsibility is to construct the text in such a way that as many people as possible will get the most value from what they’ve just read. Hence the conscious-mind revision.

In case you’re wondering, I do the same thing with the Journal. I write it into the dark, then do a combination of cycling and conscious-mind revision so it reads as effectively as possible.

Hope this helps.

Talk with you again soon.

Of Interest

Can’t Make the Anthology Workshop in Vegas?

The Numbers

The Journal………………………………940

Writing of Blackwell Ops 25: No Name Yet

Day 1…… 3243 words. To date…… 3243
Day 2…… 1354 words. To date…… 4597

Fiction for May…………………….….… 14331
Fiction for 2024…………………………. 318116
Fiction since October 1………………… 621174
Nonfiction for May……………………… 19090
Nonfiction for 2024…………………… 173430
2024 consumable words……………… 491546

2024 Novels to Date……………………… 8
2024 Novellas to Date…………………… 0
2024 Short Stories to Date……………… 1
Novels (since Oct 19, 2014)……………… 90
Novellas (since Nov 1, 2015)…………… 9
Short stories (since Apr 15, 2014)……… 239
Short story collections…………………… 29

Disclaimer: I am a prolific professional fiction writer. On this blog I teach Writing Into the Dark and adherence to Heinlein’s Rules. Unreasoning fear and the myths of writing are lies, and they will slow your progress as a writer or stop you cold. I will never teach the myths on this blog.

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6 thoughts on “Time Is Running Out, and Outlines”

  1. I have a question for you Harvey, though I can’t remember if I asked it in the past. Do you believe that a writer can ‘burn themselves out’? Not forever, I just mean exhaust themselves so much that they can’t/don’t feel like writing for awhile. Or is it all just critical mind trying to mess with our heads?

    • Interesting question. I’ve heard of writers burning themselves out, but I haven’t experienced it. If it happened to me and if it was a product of critical mind, I think I’d recognize it though I might not admit it to myself for awhile. If that makes sense.

      Certainly it’s easier to not write, just as it’s easier to sit on a park bench and watch the other children use the slide and swings and merry-go-round to have a good time. But it isn’t nearly as much fun. 🙂

      • Sometimes I feel ‘burned out’ and think I’ll take a break from writing for a few weeks. But it isn’t long before I’m back in the chair typing away. I do think breaks here and there are good, even a month’s break once in a blue moon (as my mother loves to say), but I find it difficult to stay away from writing for extended periods. I love creating and letting the words flow. Also, the longer you stay away, the harder it will be to sit back down and get back to writing.

        • Works for me. I don’t think about it much. I just let each story take the time in needs. If it decides not to launch into a novel yet, I usually give the character every opportunity, then wrap it as a short story and move on to the next thing.

  2. What a good Q&A in the comments. I believe if someone don’t feel like writing they don’t have to. That is what I tell myself and it always leads me back to the writing chair. If I don’t want to write, I don’t have to. But I want it, so I do it.
    Sometimes I have to check with myself why I don’t want to write. Am I tired? Am I sick? Am I just lazy? Is it the critical mind try to stop me? Do I feel the needs of perfection? Most of the cases I can do the writing, and just something is there to scare me – there are only a few times when I should care about other things.
    Burning out can happen, but I think it is the consequence of the critical mind. If I like playing around, there shouldn’t be burning out… And I use the ‘burned out’ writer to the writers keep repeating the same old story again and again… But it is just my opinion. They are afraid to try other things out or something like that. Or the ones who are always in the middle of attention. They sometimes do burn out, but because the pressure of having to write perfect novels. Eh, critical mind, also.
    I’m in the very beginning of my writing, so maybe I don’t see the whole picture. Whatever.

    • Excellent comment, Balázs. Two things you said are especially valid:

      “Sometimes I have to check with myself why I don’t want to write. Am I tired? Am I sick? Am I just lazy? Is it the critical mind try to stop me? Do I feel the needs of perfection?”

      Exactly, and also, “If I like playing around, there shouldn’t be [any] burning out.”

      Perfect, my friend.

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