Thou Shalt Outline (Before You Write)

by Linore Rose Burkard

One of the most remarkable “God encounters” of my life happened while I was in college. It was a pressure-crunch week with no less than four essays coming due. For some English Majors that may not be too daunting, but for a perfectionist whose self-esteem depended strongly on getting an A or A+ —every time–I felt sadly doomed. (Melodramatic? Yes–maybe that’s why I’m a writer!)
I was standing at a bus stop outside of a New York Public Library, trying to decide whether to get on the next bus and catch a few precious hours at my apartment before heading off to my exhausting full time evening job at a hospital, or maybe doing some research or writing. If I chose to write, I’d end up having to go straight to work without that little bit of down time.

I wasn’t praying at the moment. Since I lived alone then, I did habitually pray earnestly, sometimes for hours. (I was a new Christian and in love with God!) But quite suddenly, out of the blue, I heard the Lord speak to me. He said, “I’ll give you the paper.” I’d been thinking about a certain paper–it was on the medieval poem, “Sir Gawain and the Green Knight.” My chosen topic for the essay was the function of the “wheel” (a poetic device) in the poem. So when God said, “I’ll give you the paper,” there was no doubt in my mind which paper he meant.

Hmm. Having never had such an experience before, I didn’t know what to do, but I walked rather woodenly into the library and sat down and opened a notebook. And then–the miracle. (His speaking to me was miraculous, in my book, but it gets even better.)

As I put my hand to write, and not a second sooner, an outline came to me, point by point, including sub-points beneath each major point. In minutes, I had an astonishing outline. I went home and typed up my paper.

Now, you should know that I have absolutely NO–and I mean, NO–talent for writing outlines. To this day, to my great regret–(because obviously this is how GOD writes!! It’s GOT to be the best way, right?)  I just can’t do it.

The following week when my professor was handing back papers, he called me up to his desk, thoroughly impressed. The paper was brilliant, spot on, A++. He urged me to enter a prestigious English major contest, the name of which I’ve completely forgotten. This became one of  many lost opportunities in life, because I nodded as though of course I’d enter this contest, all the while convinced, with a sinking heart, that it was impossible. With my work schedule, I had no confidence of ACING the contest, so there was no question of entering. (Yeah. Idiot. Actually, back then I was anxiety personified.)

So what’s the moral of the story? First, that falling to our knees in earnest prayer can result in God showing up unexpectedly in miraculous ways!  But as writers, it’s this: Lots of authors will tell you that it’s best to start a novel with an outline. Why? Instead of having to edit and rearrange a whole novel, you can fix your much simpler outline, see the problem spots before you write them out, and save yourself a ton of trouble. I TOTALLY agree. I’m convinced it’s the best–dare I say it? Blessed, way to write!

Unfortunately, I can’t do it. But I can still tell you to!

An excellent book, if you care to give it a try is First Draft in 30 Days, by Karen Weisner.
I used this book while I wrote my third historical romance novel, The Country House Courtship, and came closest to writing an outline that worked (aside from that singular instance of divine inspiration) than I have ever done otherwise.

So, if you happen to hear the voice of God dictating a novel word for word ( I certainly haven’t!) go for it.
If not? Try an outline.


Thou Shalt Outline (Before You Write) by Linore Rose Burkard (Click to Tweet)

See the problem spots before you write them out~ Linore Rose Burkard (Click to Tweet)

I’m convinced it’s the best~ Linore Rose Burkard (Click to Tweet)

(Not Final Cover)

Linore Rose Burkard grew up in NYC in a family of ten. She left home at 19, worked her way through college and graduated magna cum laude from CUNY. An author of historical romance and young adult suspense, she now lives in Ohio with her husband and five children, a Shorkie and cats.

“It’s a great time to be a fan of YA novels! L.R.Burkard is back with the
next tale in her dystopian series, and the bar of excellence is raised
to new heights with this top-quality literary offering! Deena Peterson,  Blogger/Reviewer
See PULSE, the electrifying start to the series Here.

Confessions of a Copycat

post by Michelle Griep
I don’t like cats. I know. I know. I just offended half my audience. Deal with it. The thing is that I grew up with the cat from hell. No, really. He smelled of sulfur and his eyes glowed, seriously, all the time. I’m pretty sure he was possessed.

That being said, I do have a certain affinity for felines because I am a copycat.

If you grab a book off my shelf, you’ll be able to tell if it’s one of my all-time favorites by the amount of dog-ears and highlighting. Why do I trash my most beloved novels? I keep a notebook, several, actually (I can never remember where I leave them, so if there’s a bunch laying around, I never need hunt for them). In the notebooks, I copy down sentences that make me weep, wet my pants, or hang my head in self-pity knowing that I’ll never be able to put words together in such a fashion. Why bother? Several reasons . . .

– The act of writing down beautiful writing inspires my own writing.

– Innovation is often fueled by imitation.

– And most importantly, in the words of Picasso, “Good artists copy, great artists steal.”  (click to tweet)

Now don’t get me wrong. I am not advocating plagiarism. Felonies are never fun. Here’s how I use those notebooks . . .

When I’m polishing up a rough draft, I love to add in lines that really zing. I look for places that are dull or dragging, then open up one of my notebooks. I find a sentence or two that could work in that spot, then I use them to inspire me to think creatively by re-writing them into something different. Need an example?

Copied sentence: His throat twisted into a sodden, knotted rope.

My innovation: Words knotted in his throat, cutting off air, breath, hope.

See what I did? I used knotted and throat from the first sentence and then rewrote them into my own voice.

For more on imitation, here’s a great article by 99U: Here is Your Official Permission to Be a Copycat

You didn’t think I actually came up with the idea for this post today all by myself, did you?

Like what you read? There’s more. WRITER OFF THE LEASH: GROWING IN THE WRITING CRAFT is a kick in the pants for anyone who wants to write but is stymied by fear, doubt, or simply doesn’t know how to take their writing to the next level.

Michelle Griep’s been writing since she first discovered blank wall space and Crayolas. Follow her adventures and find out about upcoming new releases at her blog, Writer Off the Leash, or stop by her website. You can also find her at the usual haunts of FacebookTwitter, or Pinterest.

10 Writing Lessons From a Dog

post by Michelle Griep

Her Royal Highness Princess Ada Clare

I took my dog to special ed class today. She muzzle-punched the instructor last week, so it’s rehab time. Apparently I have a knack for picking out special needs dogs. Because of this experience, I’ve learned a metric ton (which is equivalent to a crap load in laymen’s terms) about dog language. Interestingly, this translates well into writerly speak. What in the world am I talking about? And why do I get asked that question so many times a day? Listen up, because I think we can all learn a few lessons from my wild girl Ada Clare.

Writerly Lessons From A Boxer

Go wild off the leash.
Rules are great guidelines, but following them too strictly is like a choke chain and sucks the life out of your story.

Sniff. Sniff. Sniff.
Let your reader experience ALL five senses – in good ways and in bad.

Eat voraciously.
When you’re not writing, shove your fuzzy muzzle into a good read. The best writers are readers.

Let loose of your steaming piles of doo-doo.
Rejection stinks. Don’t hold onto it and take it personally. Step around the big, brown, nasty review/rejection piles and go on your merry way.

Stick your head out the window.
Life’s too short to get all bound up in comparing yourself to other writers. Let yourself be you, no matter if you look funny with wind in your jowls.

Naps are good.
Sometimes you just gotta take a break from writing. Live life a little. Those experiences will make for richer stories in the future.

Every now and then, throw a diversion into your story. Something unexpected, even for you. It keeps you on your toes and delights a reader.

It’s all about the treats.
What’s your motivator? Dark chocolate? Java? A new pair of shoes? Set your word goals and when you meet them, reward yourself.

Take a walk.
No, really. Get outside and take a walk. I don’t care if it’s snowing. Put your dang boots on and exercise.

Lay down at the Master’s feet.
What are you so amped up about? God’s in charge of your writing journey. Rest in that truth.

Like what you read? There’s more. WRITER OFF THE LEASH: GROWING IN THE WRITING CRAFT is a kick in the pants for anyone who wants to write but is stymied by fear, doubt, or simply doesn’t know how to take their writing to the next level.

Michelle Griep’s been writing since she first discovered blank wall space and Crayolas. Follow her adventures and find out about upcoming new releases at her blog, Writer Off the Leash, or stop by her website. You can also find her at the usual haunts of FacebookTwitter, or Pinterest.

Watch Out for Those Philistines! (And Other Writing Blocks)

by Linore Rose Burkard

Those Nasty Philistines!

When the Israelites reached the Promised Land after forty years of wandering, you can bet some hoped it would be uninhabited, just waiting to be plucked like ripe fruit on a vine. After all, this was to be their land by divine right. No earthly king or conqueror was giving it to them–it was God himself. Yet it was not to be. God had indeed promised the land to them, but His promise did not preclude their having to go in and fight for it.

As those who pick up the pen for God, writing is our “promised land.” We’ve done our time in the wilderness, spent years learning the craft, perhaps even earning a degree. We’re ready to move in to new territory!

Yet even as we recognize that our call to this land comes from God, we need also face the fact that settling into it faithfully–producing the written word–often entails a fight. God has led us to this land (of writing), encouraged us to embark on the journey to reach the end–a finished novel, say–and yet we have battle scars, or will have them, before we settle down, before that book (or that next book)  is published. Why? Because of the Philistines!

What do your Philistines look like?

Who (or What) Are Your Philistines?

We all have them: Giants, Philistines, in the land. My Philistines are

  • procrastination (fear in disguise);
  • mundane busyness;
  • household distractions. 
  • Perfectionism in non-essentials

When I have a problem to solve in a manuscript, suddenly I want to fix that three-course dinner.  And forget store-bought treats: I eat Paleo and never do I feel the urge to become the Mary Poppins of the kitchen more than when my book needs fixing.  I want to produce magic, fast. If my manuscript isn’t working, I can still make a dinner to elicit instant praise. And it’s so much easier.

But see, there’s the Philistine. My family enjoys take-out pizza as much as the meal I slave over, so it’s pride and perfectionism moving me. The solution? Slay that giant!   I can throw a salmon filet in the broiler for myself and order out for them–and still get in my word count if I really want to.The same goes for the other savages in my land.

David Slaying Goliath

Because if I can slay those big guys, I will absolutely be able to handle the legitimate endeavours (needful shopping, meal planning, cleaning and taxi servicing, for instance) that I must do for my family, while still managing time to write. But when I get my eyes on the Philistines, I get overwhelmed. Like the ten faithless spies, I want to run away and say “There’s GIANTS in the land!” I want to deny that the Promised Land is really available, or promised to me, or capable of being conquered.

When that happens, I have to get on my knees. Sometimes faith is the only way to shut up the bad guys, especially when the bad guy is me.  

Wild Beasts  
Ah. The other fearful creatures that inhabit our Promised Land.  These are the unforeseen emergencies that pop up unexpectedly and want to bite us. Last week it was my refrigerator, because it forgot it was a refrigerator and started behaving like a freezer. It cost us more than $350 to have its memory fixed (by two technicians–one is no longer enough, I suppose.) But it bit a large chunk out of my day and my writing time. And this was AFTER it spent a few days growling at me while I put off calling said technicians. (Frozen eggs are no fun. Frozen milk is worse.) Obviously, the only way to deal with a wild beast if it comes at you–and wild beasts WILL come at you, sooner or later–is to slay the thing. I stayed up late to make up for lost time. The worst thing you can do is to let a wild beast derail you.

Milk and Honey  
Which brings me to the good stuff: Milk and honey! They were part and parcel of what God promised the Israelites, and when we conquer our Philistines and slay those wild beasts, we, too, can taste the sweetness of the land. It may be a byline in a big magazine or a book in your hands, but either way, it’s sweet. And  when we hear from readers who’ve been touched deeply by our work, it’s honey all over again. Best of all, we know we’re using the talent that’s been entrusted to us. We’re taking back the land of promise.  

This doesn’t mean that publication is the end-all and be-all of the writer’s promised land. Sometimes, just getting the words right for yourself alone is satisfying, or for a few chosen loved ones. It all depends on what land God is directing you to. Just remember it may have natives who are comfortable, and wild life with fangs. Identify those enemies–your personal Philistines and nasty wild beasts–then draw out your sword.

When you put yourself in the right position, and show God you’re deadly serious about the fight, an amazing thing happens: God fights for you!

We remember we are not alone in the sometimes hazardous territory of taking on the giants.

Psa 44:3  for
not by their own sword did they win the land, nor did their own arm
save them, but your right hand and your arm, and the light of your face,
for you delighted in them.

Images:    3.Wikipedia

Linore Rose Burkard  is
best known for her Inspirational Regency Romance Series, which whisks readers to early 19th century England. Authenticity and heart-warming
adventure are par for the course in her books. Fans of romance in the tradition
of Austen and Heyer (such as Pride & Prejudice, Cotillion,
and even My Fair Lady), enjoy meeting Linore’s feisty heroines and
dashing heroes.