I don’t often talk about my progress of my current project, but it feels like a great way to follow up yesterday’s post. Outlining hasn’t been my strong suit lately and, like yesterday’s post on worldbuilding, I had to find a new approach to it to appreciate what it is able to do for my writing. Like many other new writers, templates and existing formulas were my guiding light, but I soon found that the majority of those helpful posts weren’t for me. Maybe it is because of the way I think, but if I don’t dig through the trenches myself and struggle a little, I find myself relying too much on outside examples and slowing the progress of my work due to lack of confidence.

Instead of clinging to someone’s preset outline/plotting template, I decided to create my own bare bones approach and go from there. Headings for Plot, Setting, Character, and Notes for miscellaneous systems and subheading when necessary work for me. No overbearing character checklists, quirky fill in the blank plotting helpers, or questions for adequate settings.

I’m not saying that these things are bad or that you shouldn’t make them part of your toolbox as a writer, but being a writer isn’t the same thing as programming in a particular computer language or doing mathematical calculations. Writing, like many other arts out there, takes on its own form once you understand the basics and your success as one doesn’t necessarily hinge on following the same rules as any other writer. That’s my take on it.

Tossing the preaching aside, my new approach – something I recently found out that Brandon Sanderson uses as well – is working wonderfully. There’s more organization now that it isn’t a jumbled mess of parts dragged from different bloggers and guides, and there is a sense of freedom that I felt I didn’t have before when simply following the guidelines set out before me. I can write what is necessary for my work in progress and, most importantly, I don’t feel the need to abandon project after project because of my insecurity with the work done.

I mention insecurity and confidence often because I find that aspiring writers lack these above all else. It is possible to learn technique through all sorts of how-to manuals, writing workshops, and so on, but being able to apply those things confidently is a completely different arena. Many forum goers that I’ve seen on the web often ask their peers questions that they know the answers to, but are usually looking for affirmation to settle their worries and push them to continue writing.

Coming from a science background where you had limited approaches to problems, I found myself clinging to the rights and wrongs of writing without bothering to approach it from my own standpoint. That, as you can tell, has been an underlying focus on these past few posts and is something I think that many writers – especially school-aged ones – keep at the forefront of their mind due to the way we are programmed to learn. As an aspiring writer, this is something that I’m trying to break myself out of and I encourage many others to do the same.

Detailed outlining and plot development are two good ways to do this or so I’ve found. By clinging to templates and guides without providing your own flair, you aren’t claiming your story as your own. So what if your character doesn’t fit into X archetype or your plot ignores Y structure? Stories, while similar in some aspects, are not made from cookie cutters that everyone has access to. They are imagination incarnate born from your mind to be penned by your hand.

Confidence, especially when it comes to writing, isn’t something that can be taught by any book. You can be guided on the right path by all the knowledge in the world, but being bold enough to take that first step is where it all begins. Like I’ve said before, you can always learn and develop through your mistakes.