Trailblazing vs. Outlining (Crashcourse, Day 2)

Welcome to Day 2 of Crashcourse!

Which can only mean it's trailblazing time!
Hmm … it’s pretty dark back there …

I’m itching to get started on Crashcourse, but there’s a few things I need to do beforehand. Today, I’m going to pick the type of book I want to write. Then I’m going to decide on my approach.

Choosing a Genre

I’ve written seven books. Five of those books—the Cy Reed Adventures—are treasure hunting novels. The other two—the Apex Predator series—are a mixture of apocalyptic and post-apocalyptic science fiction. I like to think of them as Jurassic Park meets Wayward Pines meets The Walking Dead. Both series have their fans but there’s not a lot of crossover between them. I imagine that’s because most readers prefer sticking to certain genres. Regardless, the choice seems clear. To reach the maximum audience, I should write Cy Reed #6 or Apex Predator #3.

But where’s the fun in that? Let’s do something new, something different. But what? Well, both of my series are geared toward adults. And yet, I’m pretty much a wide-eyed kid at heart. I love swashbuckling adventure, lost treasure, forgotten lands, good vs. evil, following your dreams, and … well, you get the idea. So, let’s make Crashcourse a young adult novel. And let’s steer away from treasure hunting and science fiction, too. So, how about a … hmm … how about a young adult fantasy novel? Ahh, now we’re getting somewhere. I’ve never written in the fantasy genre so this should be interesting. Maybe something along the lines of Harry Potter or Percy Jackson. Or maybe something a bit older and more grounded in reality. We’ll see.

Now, I should point out that this isn’t exactly the best business move. Cy Reed and Apex Predator are proven brands with devoted followings. Veering into a new genre may cause me to alienate loyal readers. I hope that isn’t the case. Regardless, this feels like a good creative decision to me.

Writing Approach: Outlining or Trailblazing?

Now that I’ve got that out of the way, I need to decide how I’m going to write this book. Most authors, I suspect, prefer to outline. And that’s perfectly fine. But outlining never really worked for me. I wrote my first four books that way and while I’m proud of them, I didn’t exactly enjoy the journey. These days, I prefer to use a different technique. It goes by many names … writing by the seat of your pants, pantsing, writing into the dark, etc. As for me, I’ve come to call it trailblazing. Allow me to explain.

Imagine the vast blackness of your imagination. You’re standing in front of it, wielding a torch. Meanwhile, a restless audience waits behind you, ready for the adventure of a lifetime. Your job is to forge a pathway through that blackness, lighting other torches to help the audience follow suit. Some routes are short, others are long and meandering. Some lead to magnificent castles and glory, others to distant mountains and romance. The point is that everything is already there. It’s buried in the darkness of your imagination, awaiting discovery. Your job is to shine light upon it.

So, I’m going to write this book via trailblazing. I’m not going to outline or plan ahead. Instead, I’m going to create a situation, put a bunch of characters into it, and see what happens. At first, the characters will be faceless, blank slates. The situation will be basic and uncomplicated. But as I move forward, all of that will change. The situation, whatever it is, will begin to grow, to twist in knots. The characters will gain depth, texture, and personality.

I should also mention that I’m not going to do rounds and rounds of rewrites. Instead, I’ll edit Crashcourse as I go. The way this will work is simple. If a character suddenly needs a tool on page 50, I’ll go back and add that tool to earlier pages. If I decide to make a house into an office building, I’ll go back and make the necessary changes. And if I decide to just cut off part of the story and go in an entirely new direction, I’ll do that too. Going back to the trailblazing analogy, it’s akin to backtracking to an earlier part of the route. Maybe you shift one or two torches to allow for better lighting. Or maybe you go off in an entirely new direction altogether.

One last thing to decide in regards to my writing approach. That is, how much will I do per day? Some writers use daily word counts, other work for a certain number of hours. Still others only work when inspiration strikes. Frankly, I’d prefer the latter although I’ve never done it before. It seems the most creatively-driven and in that respect, ideal for trailblazing. Hmm … for now, I think I’ll start with an hourly schedule. Let’s say four hours per weekday and half of that on a weekend day. At that rate, I’d expect to produce about 12,000 words per week. By the way, I know that schedule probably seems pretty easy. Unfortunately, the writing business entails more than just writing (and now includes this blog series!). Also, I think good stories require lots of downtime in order to let the subconscious do its work. So, for now we’ll stick to the above schedule and see how things go.

Recent Comments

  • Werner
    May 19, 2017 - 12:40 pm · Reply

    I have to admit I like the term ‘Trailblazing’ much better than ‘Pantsing’. I also like it better than Dean Wesley Smith’s ‘Writing into the Dark’ and I even like it better than Stephen King’s archaeology analogy. Your term has a better sense of excitement and discovery.

Leave a Comment