Running on Empty


One of the most miserable sensations known to man comes at the precise moment your car starts to sputter, spit and lurch like a taser charged ferret.  Your eyes immediately flick to the gas gauge, because deep in your soul-of-souls, you experience a charge of enlightenment worthy of a Shaolin monk.  You, Young Grasshopper,  have run out of gas.

image courtesy of

image courtesy of  NO GAS FOR YOU

One moment, you’re blissfully out for a Sunday drive in the countryside, then, in the time it takes the gas gauge to register your Karma, you find yourself stuck in some backwoods hellhole listening to the faint strains of Deliverance banjo music.  Another example of the end result of poor planning.

The last blog post, A Voice on Outline Driven Writing, talked about using an outline as a guidepost for your story.  An outline doesn’t mean that you are handcuffed to that particular death march of successive plot points.  You are the Creator.  You are the Supreme Commander of Storymaking.  The deal with using an outline, is it’s only an outline–a map of the direct route from start to finish.  The route you choose is up to you and you alone.


A couple of blogs I visited this week were militant anti-outline.  Like Vegans at a BBQ rib eating contest, militant.  Hey!  Lighten up!  Jeeze!  Can’t we all just get along?  What works for you might not work for everyone.  I find that I need to change from book to book on the approach I need for that story.

Lately, I’ve found that writing without an outline is like running on empty.  At first, it feels exciting and edgy.  How far can I go?  Then, I take shortcuts and start to coast on the downhills, turn off the air and back off on the gas.  My story can have lots of great narrative, dialogue and description, but how does this propel the story forward?

Without an outline as a guidepost to find my way back to my original story idea, I could wander about on the dusty backroads until I run dry.  Then what?  How do I find my way back home?  I’ve got no cell signal out here?

what's lurking out here?

what’s lurking out here?

What do you have so show for the brief moment of “freedom” of writing without a net?

Dead End Story

wikimedia commons

wikimedia commons

A Plot Lost like Flight 370

Have you seen my story?

Have you seen my story?

You might make friends with Bigfoot.



Or, make friends with people who didn’t make the cut for Swamp People.


Archeologists will find your fossilized remains demonstrating your last desperate act of searching for a way out.


So, before you venture off the path, consider the risk.

As was pointed out to me recently…writing is supposed to be fun.  So whatever work for you, make it work, for you.



  1. Writing the first draft of my first book, I followed a more organic process but I did find myself dropping in sign posts along the way (ideas for scenes with notes underneath to carry the plot forward and tie pieces together). Personally, I think the whole debate between outliners versus pantsers is quite silly. No need to be militant, anti-this or that. Start with an outline, don’t start with an outline, do a mini-outline part way through or don’t. Whatever is working to get you happily to the end of your novel, keep doing it. When you get stuck, be open to trying something different. As you said so well, “writing is supposed to be fun. So whatever works for you, make it work, for you.” Another great post, James.

  2. stephanie710 · · Reply

    My outlines resemble cave drawings but they do help keep me on some kind of course. There are times when I just wing it and see what comes out and that either ends up being a down in flame situation or hey, did I write that? Total crap shoot but I do agree, do what works best for your process and hope for the best. We always have the option of pulling the emergency hatch aka…DELETE. Great post, as always. 🙂

  3. You almost got the credit write for my Bigfoot photo. Close enough. 🙂

    1. Damn it! Give me the corrected credit and I’d be happy to fix it.The Bigfoot is a notoriously unforgiving creature.

      1. I was just having the craic with you. you left the U off Moviewriternyu, but it’s no biggie. I got the pic off some free site…

      2. Still…Mea Culpa. For my penance I will watch a half hour of political debate. (just so you know I’m really sorry) And the photo credit has been corrected.

      3. Ha! You’re amusing me now. 🙂

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

%d bloggers like this: