Writing by Staring at the Ceiling

When I work with a ghostwriting client, we create an outline before I ever start writing the text of the story. That’s so the client knows what to expect, and so I’m not just flying by the seat of my pants. Whenever I’m staring at a blank page, I can just look at the outline and say, okay, I know what’s supposed to happen next.

No matter where I am in the book, there is always the outline to refer to so I don’t go completely off the reservation. The only problem is, it’s really impossible to stick 100% to an outline. Once the writing begins, I can see how one scene introduces elements that should be dealt with in the next scene, no matter what the outline says.

Once a single scene diverges from the outline, it can lead to another and another . . . At this point, a writer has to trust her intuition, but also remember the client is expecting the agreed-upon plot, so I keep returning to the outline as often as possible.

In the case of my current ghostwriting project, the client and I decided on a fictional storyline when we wrote the outline. Not knowing how many pages each scene would take up, I overwrote the plot of the story with lots of complications and twists and turns, understanding that I’d have to cut some of it when I started seeing how many pages each scene took up.

As it was, I cut fully 50% of the plot’s many complications. That’s fine, because when the story focuses more on characters and relationships, you end up having less room for action, but it’s a better book overall, which is the case here.

Just as soon as I did that, the client asked me to change the ending so there is a big twist. Now, my policy is NO PLOT CHANGES after the outline is written. That’s how I can write a book in six months. If you keep changing the plot, it takes forever, like most books. Trouble is, I happen to agree with my client.

I think the book would benefit from fewer conflicts during the bank heist and one big, unexpected conflict at the end. The way I think of my work, the book is more my boss than the client, so whatever the book demands, that’s what I do. In this case, the book and the client both want that twist at the end. So, now I’m off the outline, off the reservation, and I have no outline for a solid ground to land on. I’m making it up as I go along.

What do I do? Well, I took my own advice. I wrote a blog recently on writer’s block and how to work through it by just letting yourself write bad stuff and write entire chapters that might have to be cut as an exploratory, experimental process. Luckily, I’m way ahead on this book, so I have the time to do that. Also, I spend more time staring at the ceiling.

Seriously. I lay in bed until 10 this morning, just coming up with ideas for the book. I think a lot of writing is done without writing. Just idea-generating. Sometimes not-working is the key to getting work done when you have a very specific problem to solve. That’s a dangerous thing to say in a lazy world, but it can be true under circumstances like these!

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