Working Without a Net

Over the years, I’ve gone to quite a few classes and read numerous books on the craft of writing. Most, if not all, recommend creating   a detailed outline before beginning work on the actual book. On the surface, it makes sense. After all, you can’t build a house without a blueprint, right? (Not that I would know. My wife has taken away all my tools because I’m a danger to myself and others.)

So, before starting “Dice Angel,” I compiled all the scraps of paper I’d accumulated and earnestly jumped into my outline. You know what? I hated it. For one thing, it reminded me of school. For another, I felt stifled creatively. So, after days of dread, I tossed the whole thing and just started writing. I’m not recommending this for everyone, but it worked great for me. The freedom to go wherever I wanted made all the difference. Knowing that I could change anything at any time took a big weight off my shoulders. I believe that the best parts of that book (and all my other stuff) came from somewhere unpredictable, somewhere I never could have foreseen in an outline.

In some cases, minor characters turned into major characters. In others, a plot complication or a complete turnaround just showed up unannounced and I had to see where it took me. You just have to learn to trust the process. Or as Nate once said in Six Feet Under, “It’s all about the flow.”

Here’s the scary part: In both “Dice Angel” and “Money Shot,” I had no idea how the books would end until roughly two-thirds of the way through. In “Dice Angel,” the ending came to me while I was out walking my dog. I dragged the poor creature all the way home so I could feverishly jot down my notes. In “Money Shot,” it happened during my morning shower. Showers and bathrooms in general are fertile areas for ideas. So are cars. It might have something to do with the solitude.

Obviously, my subconscious had been working overtime on the solutions. I’m happy (and relieved) to say that it has never let me down. The whole magical, mysterious process has turned me into a believer in the power of the mind. The main trick is to get out of your own way.

It also makes for a better, more satisfying conclusion. The material my subconscious came up with genuinely surprised me. I never saw it coming. If that can happen, maybe my readers will be surprised, too.