Rowling and How Writers Do It

From Unclutter, this image and a fascinating look at  how J.K. Rowling organizeswhen she writes. For a larger view of the image, please go to the Unclutter site–it is worth it. I love that she’s using a six-stream storyboard, showing that planning is done, just not roman numeral outlines, since they are inadequate for the task. Just sayin’…a common question creative writers get from those who don’t dream up such things is whether they outline or not. Every now and then I get to attend seminars or classroom visits by fiction writers who are on campus for a reading, and how they respond to this question is interesting. For example, I still remember James Wilcox’s response (author of Southern novels, Modern Baptists and Sort of Rich) during a classroom visit at Wichita State University. A student asked if he did a detailed outline before he began writing, and his response was unexpected. He looked like someone who had been hit in the face with a shovel. He had never considered a formal, detailed outline and upon consideration, strongly felt it would hamper his writing. For him, he honestly did not know what the characters were going to do until he wrote the words and they did it. Interestingly, I have never heard a poet asked about outlining and probably never will. The common view of writing poems involves floating on an emotional stream or channeling the muse. In actuality, minor planning (usually through a prompt) can take place, and once the draft is in place, the revision is meticulous and possibly endless.

To be fair to the student who was visibly disappointed that Wilcox did not construct detailed outlines, the two books I’ve read of his were very character-driven. His description of how that works is very apt. Rowling, on the other hand, has a multi-book, very intricate plot to deal with, making multi-layered planning essential. I noticed that some of the streams do involve character development, but expressed through plot. What I wonder though, is if once Rowling has this chart in place, she moves to something like Scrivener. Just think of how Scrivener would have made this easier.

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Author of the poetry collection The Tethered Ground and Professor of English at Missouri State University. Contact me for readings or for workshops on writing/publishing and on teaching writing online.

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