Into the Flow: Outlining & Journaling

With the guidance facilitated by yesterday’s work of story-boarding, today I started on what will probably be my work ritual for at least the next few weeks: outlining and journaling.

Once I get a doable chunk of writing within my sights (e.g., such as the Introduction I story-boarded yesterday), it can be hard for me to not jump head-first into writing. Outlining–and dedicating a significant amount of time to it–makes me put the breaks on a self-defeating urge to “get writing done” for the sake of just having words on the page. So today, I translated my story board into Scrivener, and started working through the huge stack of articles, books, and notes I’ve amassed over the last eight months while my brain has been tuning into this project. In a way, I’m working backwards to the “brain dump” of terms I shared yesterday, but this path forces me to engage the nitty-gritty of where facts and figures go and how concepts link together. It’s a slow process–today, I worked through my accumulated notes on conspiracism, including on Nancy Rosenblum and Russell Muirhead’s A Lot of People are Saying and my notes on Hannah Arendt’s The Origins of Totalitarianism, and I started integrating excerpts from David French’s Divided We Fall, which is where I’ll start back up tomorrow. The plan is to dump relevant excerpts and evidence in their appropriate sections, and then take each section on its own to organize into a detailed paragraph-by-paragraph outline. Then, and only then, will I get to start writing. It seems belabored, but if all goes as planned, I will have worked through enough of the intellectual heavy-lifting with the outlining that the writing will become that much easier. Or at least, that’s how I will trick myself into believing that by the time I get to the writing part (which really is the “hard part”), I will have already done the “hard part” during the outlining.

The other strategy I started today was journaling about my writing. Typically, I journal about 10 to 20 minutes everyday on a variety of areas of my life, but as I turn to focus on this book, I will focus my journaling more and more to take stock of how I feel about the act of writing, and how I feel about the book. This is my opportunity to shed all my anxieties about the form the book may ultimately take, to work through my twin urges to procrastinate versus rush through writing, to acknowledge my feelings of gratitude for having the space to write even as I doubt my own writing, to nurture the aspirations and ambitions about what the book might become, and to remind myself of why I write in general and why I am writing this book in particular. Here are some simple journal prompts (once you get the hang of it, you’ll probably find that you know pretty intuitively what is most productive to journal about and when):

  • What feelings does writing this book conjure up for me in this moment?
  • For whom am I writing? Myself? My colleagues? Who is my audience, and why?
  • Books unfold at multiple levels–they tell stories, elicit emotions, present facts, press arguments. How do I want my writing to unfold?
  • What doubts, fears, and anxieties do I face at different stages of the writing process?
  • Who am I to write this book? What gives me the right, the entitlement?
  • Who do I most hope would read this book, and why?
  • What do I want this reader to gain from my book–above and beyond a cool sociological argument?
  • How can I use my writing to engage unheard voices and under-appreciated ideas? Why does this matter to me?
  • What impact do I want this book to have?
  • In a dream world, what would happen to this book once it is released out into the world?
  • How do I honor the gift of being able to write as I craft this book?

This space for solitary reflection allows me to clear up the headspace to focus on the meat of the book, unencumbered by counterproductive anxieties and fears. It also provides fuel when I’m feeling discouraged; for me, there’s nothing like 10 minutes of reflection on the gift of being able to write as part of one’s professional career to stamp out urges to procrastinate on my writing, especially if it is writing I am passionate about.

Together, journaling and outlining help build a foundation for a writing practice that–hopefully–will carry me through the entire book. So for now, I’ll be focusing on the next couple of weeks of detailed outlining and frank journaling to get back into the so-called “writer’s life.”

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