When I was a kid, my mom had a rule at the dinner table: “Eat everything on your plate.” I was okay with it most of the time. Mom was a great cook who never failed to deliver a stunning meal even when she didn’t have much to work with. But sometimes…sometimes that rule was a tough pill to swallow. Especially when Lima beans were involved.
But what I didn’t realize was that mom was teaching me an important principle way back then: it’s just as important to do the things you don’t like as it to do the things you love.
As a writer I love the feeling of crafting a sentence or paragraph that works, words that flow into one another naturally and easily. It’s what makes the act of writing truly magical for me. But unfortunately that isn’t the only thing on my plate.
There is more expected of me as a writer than the crafting of powerful sentences; I also have to craft a powerful story. And crafting a powerful story involves planning and forethought. All the elements of the plot have to fit together in the same way that all the elements of the sentence need to fit together. Not only should they make sense, but they should move the reader at his very core.
But the problem is that plots like that don’t just fall onto the page naturally. They need to be planned. They need to be…deep breath, I can do this…outlined.
There. I said it. Outlining. I like it about as much as I like Lima beans. But recently I’ve come to realize that what I like doesn’t really matter. I realized I needed to approach my writing like I approached mom’s dinner. It’s fine to enjoy the good stuff, the stuff you really love, but sometimes you’ve got to eat some Lima beans too.
Which means when the time comes to start my next big work, I’m going to have to get out the sharpies and the 3×5 cards and start planning. It probably won’t be fun, but that doesn’t mean I can ignore it. There will be time for fun later on when I’m soaring through that first draft spinning sentences out of the raw aether.
This isn’t a post about outlining; it’s a post about doing what doesn’t come naturally. Maybe you love outlining. Maybe you go to town with those little 3×5 cards and a black magic marker and make that plot work baby.
But the odds are good there’s some other aspect of writing you fall short at. And that is the thing you’re going to have to conquer if you want to become a truly great writer.
Doing what comes naturally is easy. We can play from our strengths all day long. But playing from our strengths isn’t going to make us great. If we aspire to greatness we’re going to have to learn to work through our weaknesses.
The writer we are is the core of our strengths, the essence of our love of the craft. But the writer we are isn’t enough. We have to reach out to the things we don’t like, the areas of the craft that make us wary and uncomfortable and learn to embrace them as well.
We have to eat our Lima beans. We have to become the writer we aren’t.
When it comes to fiction writing, the writer I’m not is one who cranks out a steady flow of words on a daily basis. Over the weekend I came up with two new novel ideas that I’m excited about, so now I’m feeling some pressure to finish the last one that I put on hiatus.
It’s weird: Give me a couple bucks and I’ll write an article of so many words no problem. But give me a story I want to tell? That thing’s gonna drag on for a while.
I’m the same way. It’s easy to blame the rest of my schedule for eating all my writing time, rather than insist I keep my discipline. It’s a cycle of jumping on and falling off the daily words wagon, trying to figure out how to be disciplined and flexible at the same time.
Very true. Artistic perfectionism Vs Bread winning survivalism. 🙂
Just the post I was looking for to help me articulate my thoughts. For me putting my ideas into perspective is an important part of how I can convey my thoughts and experiences to others and this takes a lot of time and reflection. A big part of planning also requires some deep soul searching and looking at what really is the core of what you want to express and why.
I’m the same way when it comes to painting. I’m an artist and I suffer from the same problem. Tell me to paint something, I see something inspiring, DONE! But don’t sit me in front of a blank canvas and tell me to paint what’s in my head or something I love.
i’m glad to see other writers struggle. i read so much beautiful work i was beginning to believe i was the only one who struggled.
visit me at mindof a firstname.lastname@example.org
Thought I actually like Lima Beans, I was not a big fan of outlining. My first draft I didn’t do it and suffered major consequences so now I have to do it. I guess when it comes to doing those things you don’t like doing in writing, you have to remember that it’s for the sake of your book and your story – not how you feel about the activity at the moment.
Outlines…and story. Funny, I can never make the two mesh. If I have a good idea of the story, outlining it seems redundant. But if I begin with an outline, I can never seem to get the details down. You’re right about the importance of them though – I completed a dreadful novel which said everything I wanted to say, plus a few more things that occurred to me along the way, and lots of unnecessary bits and pieces that fell into the mix. It was too awful even to go back and re-write. All for a lack of outline and focus.
I was surprised to discover I needed outlines for writing full length plays, as the short plays I had written could just flow, but in the longer pieces, you have to know where you’re going and how to get there. Great post, thanks!
NOTHING is ever so awful you can’t go back and re-write. The words are on the page, which is the insurmountable step for anyone else.
I have trouble not being a perfectionist my first draft!
(Which is why I like to write poetry, because it comes naturally, and it is short without so many mistakes.)
I’d say you’re already off to a great start with becoming the writer you aren’t YET. I know you posted before how outlining can be your nemesis, but you take charge of that and are driving yourself to improve actively by reading blogs like Kristen Lamb’s and reading craft books, which I think do help out us writers in the structure department. You are very blessed to be so talented with the flow of the actual words, the sound of it all. I agree with those readers who have commented before that you have a definite voice in your posts so as long as your working on combining what you have with what you know you can achieve by practicing and education, then I know you will succeed. Keep on going!
I hear ya. I hate eating Lima beans. I hate outlining. One must be done. And it’s not the eating of Lima beans.
I love Lima beans. I love how I could split it in half inside my mouth. 🙂
I tried outlining before. Unfortunately, I had an idea of what I was about to do but I hated it since I could not think of what I should write. Needless to say, I don’t do outlining much. I prefer rewrites which is how I do my papers in college–write whatever and do rewrites, add references along the way.
Whatever works but you’re right. Sometimes we do what we don’t want to do if we want to improve.
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perfect post for me to read today…since i am dreading attempting to write a tv show pilot. i must embrace the dialogue…but im still not eating any lima beans.
Personally, one of the difficulties I have in crafting the complete story is the art behind it. Especially when it comes to blogging — I try to use original photos that are highly personal, but unfortunately, sometimes they tend to happen well after the story is crafted.
I’ve begun wondering whether planning the art and the story simultaneously is a better option.
At least it won’t leave me scrambling at the 11th hour!
Do other blogger/writers plan the art ahead of time, or is it an after-thought? Just curious…
Usually art is an afterthought.
I pull my photos as I blog, or I blog about a great photo.
I do both…I get the idea, use lots of photos. If food, my own. If other topics, I go-a-hunting. When I find inspiring pics I just keep saving or posting to the editor because those images actually alter my creative direction. I find the story in those images, the personal tale within that I may have avoided, ignored, or been unaware of it’s emerging nature. Images rivet me. I am sure by some tastes, I overuse. But that is how my brain sees and functions; in images. So powerful.
I guess I do plan the art and the ‘story’ simotaneously. I guess it’s whatever works for you. Trying something new can turn over some serious rocks, though, and ya never know what squirms beneath!!!
Great post! I think one of the hard parts of writing for me is finding my authentic voice and believing in that voice. I love outlining and prepping, but when I write I tend to self-censor too much. That’s my weakness.
Congrats for being featured on Freshly Pressed!
I think you have hit upon an honest, important and real problem in writing. Finding your voice.
I watched this Jack Kerouac documentary dozens of times; he laments about finding his voice in college, while drawing in influences like Thomas Wolfe- my guess is, when you gravitate to a particular writer, it may be because you hear your voice in theirs a little. But micicry is futile! And Keroacs voice is so real and his very own in “On the Road” and the books that followed, it is like reading the scrabblings in his travel journal.
I have journaled since a tween. I find that casual free-flow journaling and having a passion for a subject where I STOP thinking and just start flowing is when your true voice emerges. TO compare it to lovemaking, it is the moment you throw away the sex manual and ravish the one you desire without care for “Am I doing this right?” heh heh. Ravish the page once in awhile. Your voice is in there.
Thank you for this. I needed it. I’m beginning the gritty work on a novel, and I’ve been writing down pet sentances and ideas for quite a while, which is easy, but now I actually have to make it work, like you said. Thanks for the kick in the butt!
I love lima beans and outlining. I didn’t like eating the creamed corn on my plate, nor do I like the revision process. Congratulations on your featured post!
Haha, well said my fellow scribe, well said.
I too love the sentence game, and yet i don’t mind the dreaded outline either… Editing however, is the bane of my existence.
I feel like a little kid on his way to the doctor, when he knows he’s about to get a shot, as i approach my table to work… Sometimes it’s just insurmountable! My girl tells me constantly to take time off, it’ll come to you she offers, but i know that that type of thinking is dangerous to a complete work. No thank you i tell her, I’ll eat my lima beans 🙂
I love the texture and taste of lima beans,
but have not quite conquered my distate of oysters, mussels or caviar. But I am willing to try, one at a time!
As a singer, I have also not yet tackled the performance of the song Ave Maria(though I have been asked to perform it several times. My chance arrives this coming July. I WILL BECAUSE I KNOW I CAN!!
Thanks for your blog entry!
Fun post and quite true. I, like most of those who have commented, don’t really like to outline too much. Although I know it is important to avoid ramblings, I like to strike finger to keyboard when the proverbial iron is hot. Unfortunately, the iron is not hot enough often enough. What I tend to do is bullet out main points for one minute (with an annoying timer) in the editor. I give myself another minute to reread/substantiate what I wrote down and then I go to the top and start clacking away.
Not very a very robust system but the time pressure works for me to at least scramble to put ideas on the screen.
Good luck with those Lima beans, never did like them myself neither.
I put a big ole’ heaping plate of lima beans on the kitchen table next to my macbook…..I’m still drawing a blank about my next blog… Nadda, nothing, zilch!
Is there a serving amount required for the LB to get the creative juices flowing?
You know they say you are only as strong as your weakest link. I completely agree with you. It’s so hard forcing yourself to do something you don’t like, like outlining, believe me I’m dreading that step, I’ve been avoiding it for a while now. Eventually I have to face it because it will make what comes after more enjoyable.
I enjoy writing, but I planning. I usually write and let my mind twist and turn as I write my events, but that only works with my Flash Fiction. As soon as I started writing my (project of a novel) story I realized that’s not going to work.
What does outlining help you accomplish if you didn’t plan ahead?
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Great post! I do enjoy Lima beans and outlining. But to get them just right, and to get the best outcome, you gotta make them both the long way, requiring time and patience. None of this “canned” stuff will do. 🙂
Thanks for the timely reminder. And congratulations on being Freshly Pressed!
I like lima beans, too! But your post is very well taken. It offers encouragement that, yes! We do need to continue to plug away and strengthen any weak skills or other weaknesses and continue to strengthen our craft. Thank you, and congrats on making “Freshly Pressed.”
Excellent post thought in here today, even though I detest the word outline.
I do a different form of it. After I’ve had the pleasure of following the story as it appears, I’ll go back in and reread the whole manuscript and then draw a quick summary of each chapter on a clean sheet at the front of it to see who’s doing what, who isn’t and what needs to be worked at. I think out of pure child-born stubborness, I refuse to lable it: A. B. C. . . I…II….III. etc.
It seems to me that the story could get too controlled/structured if the writer’s “head” is the only thing letting that story develop.
I think there needs to be plenty of room for playful freedom.
Perfect picture here today to go with your post! (Can you tell I don’t eat a lot of lima beans! But I do like them.)
Wow…what an inspiring and genuine post!!! The idea of having to have Lima beans on our plate is simply moving. It clarifies one thing, do what you love to do but always be ready to do the other related things too, that you may not like that much or not like at all…
I’m a have a vague outline and let it evolve sort of writer and that works for me (not everyone works to a strict plot – for instance Stephen King lets it flow). However, there are many things about writing that are hard work. Sometimes you don’t want to write that day; or you hit a block over a specific chapter or event. You just have to get on with it. Often the chapters I’ve forced out of myself and reworked are better than the ones that came easily. Writing is a job like any other, there are aspects that are massively enjoyable but the whole thing is glued together with hard graft.
love the lima beans analogy.
As a poet, teaching myself proper form and verse was quite difficult but well worth the effort, now it feels quite natural. What triumph one must feel when a supposed weakness becomes nigh instinct!
I enjoy lima beans but love outlining. I get so caught up in the process, I forget about product. I need the discipline to leave those posties alone and get to the good stuff, writing.
Great read. It is the positive message I need as I begin my writing day.
Good point! — “We have to reach out to the things we don’t like, the areas of the craft that make us wary and uncomfortable and learn to embrace them as well.My weakness is organization.”
Glad you were freshly presssed today!
p.s. did you draw the eyes at top?
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The great mythology of writing — unlike almost any other activity I can think of — is that it’s “natural” and fun and easy and cool. Easy! Dead easy!
I’ve been writing non-fiction and journalism (second book out April 14, 2011) for 30 years and a great editor is as essential to this process as the basic understanding we all need one. There is some fantasy that our words are de facto fab, and we forget (or don’t want to face) our shortcomings, weaknesses, tics.
My new book had to be heavily revised, twice. And that was after a TOC and clear outline, or so I thought. My smart editor helped me see a different, and much stronger, narrative arc. But I actually had to listen to her very detailed and specific ideas — and implement them. It was a hell of a lot of un-fun, challenging hard work.
Writing is not a solitary pursuit. It just looks like one.
I like lima beans and I don’t outline. And I just finished novel #12.
For me, outlining takes the discovery process out of the picture, and that’s the most fascinating part of writing for me – learning the story as you go along.
I tend to start my books with an opening scene, the ending, and a general sense of where the plot is to go. As I write, I start making notes of what happens next, and that turns into my outline.
But any project I’ve ever outlined first I’ve never written. The whole point of the exercise was gone since the vast expanse of the middle of the book was worked out.
I love knowing that I’m not the only one who hates outlining! Since the first essay I had to write at school until today I suck at planning. I’m sure things would be better if I tried, and perhaps it’s not that hard… But outlining is like tha math part of humanities.
Thnx for sharing!
I’m no writer but I think I aspire for greatness in what I do..
your words struck a cord within me..
We can play from our strengths all day long. But playing from our strengths isn’t going to make us great. If we aspire to greatness we’re going to have to learn to work through our weaknesses.
Glad I got to read this
outlining can be such a pain and i have always considered it a total waste of time and effort. However it really depends on what needs to be written. For me outlines are pointless unless im writing an academic paper because more often than not its my emotional state that gets the best out of my writing skill.
It’s wisdom that makes great writing, and your story is a powerful message that we all need to listen to. It’s my first time to your blog, and so far I rather like your style. I also don’t care for lima beans and/or outlining. Although every time a class or project “required it”, I always enjoyed the process.
Smart writing and congratulations on your feature.
Great post and well needed in a time where I need to step outside my comfort level. Thank you.
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Wonderful post.. and you are absolutely correct: by strengthening “weak” points, we can improve our writing and become TRULY great at what we do, and what we love. That’s where the merit is — improvement.
And.. I’m also a “haphazard, random, free-style” writer. Outlining — planning — is extremely difficult for me. Best wishes on your endeavor to be strategic and structured!
Awesome post. I’ve always loved Lima beans. Since
Keep up with the outlining. Maybe practice makes perfect.
I think the reason why I don’t write fiction is because I suck at plots. I’m too lazy to learn, “unspinning” my head works and is necessary.
Congratulations on being FP!!
I call what I do mapping, and it only happens after the narrative has begun to unfold on its own. Doing it that way helps me keep characters, relationships, time line and details all in sync, especially after a few revisions. Interesting to hear how other folks do it.
Sounds like the story of my life right now. I have improved exponentially as a “writer” and become an “author” but nobody will PAY me handsomely to do it so far. And the only gig I can get right now is telemarketing – commission only, which, since I dig lima beans (great source of vitamin B!), is kind like my relationship with the slimy okra my Mum used to try to feed me as a kid.
As for “greatness”, that is always somebody else’s call to make.
What a great post- I hate some of the work I have to do in graduate journalism school… I keep thinking, “what’s the point?”
Your post says it perfectly. It’s my lima beans. Damn it, I guess I have to do it.
I’m a lima bean lover but I absolutly hate tense. I personally don’t use an outline right now. I am picking up ew things everyday, so who knows. I always enjoy reading your blog. You are so insiteful, and have taught me a great deal. Keep on, keeping on.
Fantastic post! I don’t like outlining either. I never really realize that I have something to say in the first place until I’ve already said it.
I aspire to nice, orderly index cards…
Congrats on being freshly pressed! An inspiring and motivating post that is right on time just as I’m slogging through my first week of daily postings and hating every minute I write the darn things. But I want to be the writer that I’m not.
Great in-your-face title!
I love lima beans!
Albert, you are right that some form of planning is essential for writing projects. Some writers plan more extensively than others – I find that I fall in the latter. Whichever way though, you are right that we have to take the great along with the not-so-pleasant things about writing. My writing blog is http://nicolamcdonald.wordpress.com/
Thank you for the insightful post. You are absolutely right, and the Lima bean analogy is perfect (because who likes Lima beans, really?). In writing, in performing, in life, it’s about stepping outside your comfort zone. You will never grow and discover what you can really do unless you try. I tell my students all the time, “you will never succeed if you are afraid to fail.” Same sentiment. Only way funnier with Lima beans. 🙂
Outlining; no fun! Getting that first word written; trying and never gets any easier. And as for those lima beans; yuck!
Congrats on being Freshly Pressed!
Very true, and I think it’s the not-so-fun parts of writing, or whatever it is you do, that separates the wanna-be’s from the be’s. If that makes sense.
Good and helpful analogy.
A great blog and a timely one for me. I am at the end of a carreer and only working 3 out of 7 days now so all of a sudden I have 4 days to fill.
I have taken on 2 new things. Dreaming about writing and learning to play golf. Your “Eat Your Lima Beans” applies to both. All of your commentors here certainly identify with your writing analysis. For me I am trying to face up to the fact in writing that it is far more than blasting away with words that worked well during the day-dreaming portion and in golf I am close to learning that there is not a magic club out there which will correct my blasting away at the ball.
Thanks and congratulations.
“Okay seriously, 97 views before 10:00 AM? Did Justin Bieber just link to my blog? ”
It is because your Eat Your Lima Beans is on the front page #1 at WordPress.
Good post. Only thing is, there really aren’t rules every writer has to follow–not everyone has to outline. Whether you outline or not, tho, what you are saying is that more writing is about moving people from one place to another than crafting beautiful prose. Virginia Woolf said something like “all this damned getting from lunch to dinner and so forth.” You plod and plod through all that tedium, and suddenly hit the motherlode, that gorgeous phrase or sentence or paragraph that’s so satisfying, that says exactly what you wanted to say…and that’s why we write. I know it when it happens: it’s like a jewel nestled in its setting– the rest is the setting for that jewel. Only a writer knows this (and probably other kinds of artists in other ways).
Who says we need to outline using 3×5 cards? I literally type up an outline in Word and work from that. Or is this a rule I’m not aware of because I don’t have any professional training in writing?
I actually think this will help me a lot with my blogging. I am still a newbie blogger so this made me think that I should actually start outlining my ideas before I start word vomiting them onto the page.
You are also a very good writer, loved the way you wrote this post.
“The writer we are is the core of our strengths, the essence of our love of the craft. But the writer we are isn’t enough. We have to reach out to the things we don’t like, the areas of the craft that make us wary and uncomfortable and learn to embrace them as well.”
Thoroughly enjoyed this post. I believe this may be my new mantra.
All the best,
I didn’t see any metaphors or similes except in the title. That’s what really keeps me hooked to the story . Lima beans make me gag but would rather eat them instead of being forced to read even a page of a romance novel.
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One thing – if you don’t want to outline you can just make a list of what you want your writing to say. Especially with articles, this is good because you don’t have to write the list elements down in order.
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I’m going to quote you on this: “Doing what comes naturally is easy. We can play from our strengths all day long. But playing from our strengths isn’t going to make us great. If we aspire to greatness we’re going to have to learn to work through our weaknesses.” It applies not only to writing, but to anything we set out to do in life. Maybe when I become reluctant about doing something, I will think “Lima beans”.
I have written one work I think without an outline. In fact, I just wrote one last night. I don’t really mind it, although typically they are very vague, like so:
PR girl shows up at Nessa’s base and asks for a job.
The lawyer gets Nessa a place on the debates. Nessa does fantabously.
Sagi fires his PR guy and demands they get another one.
PR girl shows up. Explains the problem. Starts trying to get things moving again.
And there is three-four chapters. No, I did not use sharpies and little 3×5 cards either. I wrote down all the main characters’ outlines on paper and then pieced them together on my computer.
However, when I first began writing, I HATED editing. My method of editing my little novel involved me sitting in front of the computer, reading it through once, and declaring it done. Then I grew up, realized that I probably should at least edit it once on paper, and now although I don’t LOVE editing, I don’t dread it except that it means I can’t actually write. So though you dread it, you might result in liking it someday
Great post! I’m not good on outlining. Generally, I write a couple of chapters, see what looks like it’s about to happen, and write a bit of a plot from there, although often I have a beginning, a middle and end and haven’t the foggiest idea what I’m going to do in between.
Yup, I’m a bit of a pantser there.
Do you, by any chance, like editing? Only, people who don’t like outlining don’t generally like editing either. They’re both too ORGANISED ….
This is so true. I often try to tell my students that they liking something doesn’t have to be a precursor to doing it. Often, those things that we like to do least will end up helping you out with something you love. I may hate running, but I love soccer. Good for you to point that out.
Fabulous post, and so well written! I love your humorous take on something a lot of people take waaay too seriously. I am the kind of writer who has an idea for a scene, writes that scene and is somehow always disappointed when I have nothing left to say. I have begun to make actual sketches of my characters in the hopes that will assist me in fleshing them out on the page. Thanks for keepin’ on!
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This is so true and so inspiring! Thank you.
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Wow, now I realize how many of you are out there, all great, all ambitious. I take every post of you as my own lima beans, since they are all very important as they speak about your experiences.
Keep it all up. I think writing is the most beautiful thing one can do to share one`s passion with others.
Peace and smiles!
I like doing w hat comes natural, though playing by my strengths gets boring
Lima beans–we all have them. For me, it’s crafting pieces have emotional honesty. Love your take on this writing business.
that post came in the right moment to me. thanks!
and i guess we’re supposed to eat the lime beans in life, not only when we’re writing…
Outlining is a dangerous issue for me. It really helps having outlines, but for some reason … it gets me lazy about writing. As if not knowing exactly what comes next would make thing more interesting. I have to struggle to make it happen and often, writing a story takes me places I never expected – and I find myself surprised about how fortunately things develop.
Well, at least in my opinion.
Excellent post for those of us who aspire to write something we’re proud of but need the gentle reminder that it’s WORK.
I love the voice of your writing. It’s honest and refreshing.
As a writer – amongst other things – I sometimes just go for it; no planning. My work speaks more clearly once I plan though.
Loved this post! We all have to find our own way as writers, don’t we? By the way, I STILL hate lima beans!
Thank you for this post. Good food for fodder or is that thought? or more aptly put, good lima beans ;-P
The only thing I ever outlined was a chapter in my high school history book and that proved to be a waste..albeit I merely copied the first sentence of each paragraph and never read the chapter…. ergo I barely passed the course……..If I tried that in writing I would hate for History to repeat itself…..
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Okay, okay I confess! I have not had my 3×5’s and sharpies anywhere near me for let’s say.. uhm… YEARS!
Thanks for the humorous look at what we, as writers, need always remember. It’s the mechanics of writing that make it a good piece – the inspiration only gives us somewhere to start!
Thanks for sharing!
Outlining? I have a nice collection of 3X5 index cards, some with nice colours and a great collection of markers, but when I think of lima beans, splitting and mashing those beans become a priority.
Oh – I have yet to unwrap those pretty index cards.
So well said. I have a tendency to sit and stare at the lima beans, dreading the experience of eating them, until they become cold, congealed, moldy even, and the idea of eating them so repellant that I am stuck. You are inspiring me to get it over with– just hold my nose, chew and swallow, and wash ’em down down with a generous glass of ice water. Thanks you!
Thanks that is.
a great post, Albert. I love the way you compare eating lima beans which you’re not fond of to the craft of writing. we all have our personal lima beans problem. we just like to focus on what we like NOT what we don’t like in our writing. I’ve never thought about this before. now you’ve drawn my attention to it in an entertaining down-to-earth way
I don’t mind lima beans or outlining, but I do hate liver and book promotion. 🙂 Great post!
I’m ok with outlining and actually like Lima beans (I eat about anything), I horrible at spelling, grammar, and editing (and re-writing). But I know that I have to work on those. Loved the post, I’m sure your mom is proud!
As a reader and not a writer I guess I can avoid lima beans if I wish to. Lima beans are a constant. What I am offered to read however is all one of a kind. By the time I discover that I don’t like it I have already paid for and read it. When this happens as it does here and there I simply wait for dinner and chuck the lima beans. I liked your post so tonight I eat the beans. Thanks.
Hi, I came across this on the main WordPress page and really liked it. I find the hardest thing about writing is sitting down and just doing it. I might have the ideas in my head but the confidence in my own abilities is sometimes lacking, and that can really hold me back.
absolutely loved this. perfect analogy and helped kick start my day with taking the bull by the horns and writing my dreaded application essay that i’ve been putting off. thank you!
I think this is a great analogy, for both unfavorable processes and genres of writing. Sometimes you have to bite the bullet and do what you have to do to get the job done. Writers have to be flexible to succeed, even if that means outlining and writing technical pieces to pay the bills. Good job!
hey congrats on being freshly pressed! 137 likes and counting 🙂
the writer I am, is one that has a lot of ideas to work with. the writer I’m not, is one that sits her butt down and actually spends the time fleshing out those ideas. I’ve been avoiding my story lately, big time.
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absolutely love this! this same principle has been on my mind lately. i love to write and recently created a blog. but consistency is my biggest obstacle. writing every day or every other day seems overwhelming instead of just writing when i “feel like it.” thanks so much for this! it’s exactly what i needed to hear today!
So timely for me! I am in the process of writing my first book and just over the weekend “finished my lima beans”. Or at least, the skeletal outline. Now I am starting to fill in with the meat – the good stuff. But I know there will be plenty of lima bean moments and days ahead as I go to new levels of this adventure.
For me, it was a great relief to have established my template, and thus give structure to my free flowing thoughts.
Thanks for the reminder that vegetables are part of the full meal, regardless of how badly we feel like going straight to the dessert!
Hey, great piece and its inspired me. I have never really used dialogue before and after reading this, I have been experimenting with it.
Timely advice for me, too. I’ve got edits to do for my editor that I’ve been avoiding. Time to eat my lima beans.
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I have a love/hate relationship with outlines. I always hate doing the outline but after the writing is finished, I am always glad for the outline. It just makes writing easier.
I had a good teacher friend who once said, “I don’t like scrubbing the toilet, but sometimes it has to be done.” This was in response to a parent’s complaint that the student didn’t “like” working on punctuation because it wasn’t “stimulating”.
As someone who is just getting their feet wet in the world of writing, I find this post to be full of good advice.
Your a writer that is wonderful! I love this blog. I love to write. That has been my passion since I could shape a thought uniquely on paper. I am new to this community it would be a pleasure if you have time to read my blog and most importantly comment.
What do Lima beans have to do with writing?
Great post! I love the analogy. It’s applicable to not only writing, but also other weaknessess we may find in our lives.
I’m teaching my students about outlining tonight and I just stumbled across your entry, quite by accident. It’s always easier to sell an idea when someone else touts it, too. I’ll share your entry with my students in the hopes it’ll help them get on board with the idea of outlining!
As an architect to be I can definitely say that day after day I am faced with eating plates of Lima Beans. Everyday there is always just that one thing that you know you hate to do but you gotta think to yourself – ‘just suck it up and do it! goddamnit’ But its all worth it in the end because there’s always that sweet apple crumble at awaits you after you finish.
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Great wordsmithing! I do not like compiling references or indexing….two DRAGS!!!!!! Sometimes you can “feed the dog your lima beans”, someone else to do the work you truly dislike. But some things only the writer can so, like outline the path of the book and do re-writes. Even an author done index has its merits. you can steer the reader to the most important parts of the book for repetitive enforcement of an idea that way. Oh and I am talking non-fiction here. I have not started on a fiction novel yet, but I do have three in out line stages!!!
Thanks for a great post!
Ugh, outlining! That is a whole heap of lima beans … Thanks though, it might be just what I need to do. My novel seems to be stuck in those dreadful middle marshes!
Great blog post, and congrats on being Freshly Pressed. Your tweetsnabout it were really funny.
I hate outlining, too, but I always like my work better when I do so. I know I should just bite the bullet and always use an outline–like you says, it’s not really about what I like. I just can’t force myself to do it consistently yet, though. Why AM I so adverse to those things, anyway?
I was moved by this post, that there’s so much i want to say now. But I restrain myself from doing it. I always say good job to my students, but for this, this is really good stuff. Inspiring is an understatement. GOOD JOB!
Too true, a lot of writers fear pre-writing. I think the reason is the writers are not entirely sure how to pre-write efficiently.
great post– I like the voice and style in your narrative.
Yeah, ” Eat everything on your plate.”
I remember too. what a nice memory
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Quite a pleasant read!
Growing up, I heard my mother’s voice frequently suggesting I should eat everything on my plate. Now, I wish she could be here to tell me just the opposite, to warn, “You know you don’t have to eat every morsel on your plate. You’ll get fat!” Smiles.
As regards writing, there are times I cannot stop the flow of words and then, at other times, I struggle to compose a good sentence or two. It’s like feast or famine.
Writing is such great pleasure. For me, proofing and editing are the least appealing tasks to accomplish and so, I must compare that process to having to eat “all the Lima beans.”
I loved reading this. It was well written and a good thought. Thanks for the reminder.
You worded that very well and it; alot to do with my class tonite.
we enjoy this blog in class. but I will agree with everything you said but sept lima bean there are great I hope this outlines thing help me with my writting; which have always been a hard thing for my whole life. great blog
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Loved this almost as much as I love lima beans!!
I’m a writer too, but I’ll make a yoga analogy instead. I recently joined a new class (http://homeisaname.wordpress.com/2011/02/08/live-out-a-yoga-fantasy/) which was titled ‘vinyasa’, but, as it turns out, really meant “all the poses I hate, done repetitively while breathing like a locomotive”.
A few classes in, I’ve stretched (ever so literally), grown from the experience, and am building on that in my general practice. Am I ever going to LIKE down dog? Oh, heck no. But it’s working for me.
Thank you so much for this post! It’s exactly what I needed right now.
I don’t think any artist or writer, no matter how innately talented, can grow without commitment and hard work. When I oooh and aaah over the work my painting instructor produces, he says “You haven’t seen what’s in my closet.” Congrats on FP.
Great post. I love the message about “doing what doesn’t come naturally.” In the digital age, it seems like a lot of people are squandering precious minutes and hours in front of YouTube videos and Facebook statuses and then get downhearted when they don’t succeed. When did living a passive existence become a pastime?
There’s a misconception that there isn’t enough time out there and that we put too much pressure on our young people. I’m 22 years old and I’ve got plenty on my plate (to borrow some imagery from your post), but I’ve decided to embrace the fact that fulfillment doesn’t happen in twenty minutes. Living a life of significance and leaving a legacy is a gradual process, wherein each achievement is vital and noteworthy.
Like you say, it’d be easy to live a life in which the writer who we are champions the literary community. However, those who can sit down and pen a bestseller on a whim are either few and far between or don’t exist at all. To reinforce your message, it’s time to relish in the tedious work as well as bask in the automatic joy of our strengths so that we might truly congratulate ourselves on a job well done.
I’m with Tricia Allen on this one. It’s just what I needed to get me back on track.
I can honestly say that I’ve never needed an outline. However, my biggest writing weakness is being too descriptive, but I’m working on it.
Herzliche Grüße aus Germany 🙂
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Outlining and 3×5 cards. No wonder your blog is so well written and thought out. My blog is just random happenings in my crazy job and not very well thought out. But I have fun doing it anyway. Great post.
Very enlightening post. I think it’s a philosophy that can be applied to many aspects of life as well as writing and other professions. Focusing on your weaknesses can do nothing but make you a more well-rounded individual.
Sobering thought, but rightfully said. Fun and work don’t seem to belong together on the same plate, but too much of one without the other can cause major indigestion. Wonderful post.
Outlining is absolutely horrific, and yet there’s no doubt the framework it provides makes for a much stronger story. That said, it’s just an outline. If the story changes organically, writers should feel free to run with that change.
Thank you Albert! i was trying to figure out what kind of writing you’re referring to and realized it applies to practically all kinds. Great insight. I’ve tried to outline as much as i can even with short articles, it does help organize my thoughts.
Was so intrigued by your post I responded to it on my blog: http://writeorwrongthereisnotry.wordpress.com/2011/02/28/response2/. Congratulations on being Freshly Pressed!
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I really enjoyed this article and found it very helpful. I am so new to blogging that I squeak! 😉 I’ve been told for years that I should write, that I have a gift, etc, but never took the time in the midst of raising my 8 kids (well, still am, but they do eventually get older and there are a few minutes left in the day)
Any kind insights or helps would be much appreciated! Right now I’ve got words on paper and lots of ideas running around in my head, but not a lot of solid ground to plant the ideas in at the moment!
Again, thanks. I have a feeling there are a lot more “lima beans” out there (my least favorite veggie) than I realize but good food brings a healthy outcome!
Your post reminded me of people who can write who either don’t like to write anything or should be doing a certain style but can’t get their minds around the idea. The weird part is, if you can write, you should as there are thousands of people wishing they knew how but can’t. 🙂
Your comment really resonated with me. Thanks, it’s given much food for thought, and a bit of shame, which can be galvanizing !
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You are so right. But it’s worth it.
This is very thoughtful. It is also true. it is amazing how having said that everything has been covered.
Well, this is just a congrats for being Freshly Pressed since I was quite impressed with this post the other day. 🙂 I love having email posts, because I get them right off the bat.
I am not a writer, but a photographer and blogger. Your words really truck a cord with me…time to start planning…
Great blog. What you said about writing rings true for life. If I got your point, I also took this from your words, that our weaknesses in some ways define us more than our strengths.
Keep on writing, especially about writing. I appreciate your wisdom sir.
By the way, my mother had the same rule about finishing everything on your plate. Your understanding of that rule has helped improve my relationship with my mother. I thought she was just being mean and controlling, not teaching me a lesson on self-discipline. For that insight I must thank you.
Is this how I comment?
So true for me! As a writer I’ve hated two things: outlining and editing. Another thing: I, too, detest lima beans!
Cogratz on being on Freshly Pressed! Keep on writing! 🙂
Well said! I think we grew up in the same house…
As someone who enjoys editing, I have never been affected by problems in that part of the writing sphere. But in the past, I too liked to skip the outlines part but because I mostly dabbled in short stories and went over it later to re-draft my work, it did not matter too much. I think probably my most hated aspect of the publishing process is estimating the associated expenses. But if things aren’t accounted for, it’s easy to get into loss instead of profit.
No one can make me eat lima beans.
I eat a huge variety of vegetables that are even better for me than those woody, alien embryos. Ugh! It’s the same way with my writing. My diet is varied and colorful. Different aspects of the craft come “into season” and ripen in their own time.
There are many ways to plot and structure a story. If that part of the process is too nasty to choke down, then try a different approach. Let the structure start to show itself in the early drafts. Gently brush the dirt away and water it a bit—you’ll see where the story wants to go.
Try tossing out your definitions of outlining and plotting with the lima beans. Chilean asparagus is in season now. Yum!
One bean after the other and a plot is there. At that point I feel like all is done. I told myself the whole story so I loose the reasons why the rest of the world should know. Where do you find the reasons? How do you tell yourself that the story deserves to be told?
I’ve been having some lack of confidence recently… I really like writing but am afraid of how others will accept my writings though I’m dying to share them. Before I start on a story, I would take some time to go through the plot, the characters and they are rolling in my mind, like a complete film… only after I got the full story played to perfection in my mind, then I will start outlining and begin my writing… being a non-english native, I find it difficult to express my feeling in this language that I so much fond of, ironic isn’t it… I’m not that good in my mother tongue as well…^^ nevertheless, I will never stop writing… I just need to learn more vocab and expressions in English and continue writing. ^^
What a great post. It made me think about my own blog; I write about horror cinema but I seem to focus on writing about the films I love – it seems I’m quite good at that but I do not write about films I haven’t enjoyed so much.
In the interests of balance I might start randomly selecting films from the genre and reviewing the good, the bad and the ugly!
Thanks for the post. Well said.
I’m fine with outlining. I’m good with plunking out a plot from start to finish. Heck, I can create a pretty decent 300-page first draft in three months or less. What I struggle with is budgeting myself.
I enjoyed your blog post. I find it very challenging to write on subjects that I haven’t the faintest clue about but I find it very rewarding in the end.
Therein lies the rub ! If I’m not having fun, it’s bloody torture to construct an article I’m expected to produce quarterly for a local paper. And the stream-of-consciousness creative scribbling is far funner than the substantive must-occasionally-do-serious-research stuff. Your post reminds me of an “Oganize your Thoughts/Time Management” class I took which urged using the outline method for any task you may need to complete. For my personal blogging, it never dawned on me to try an outline method instead of the crazy habits I currently engage in. Thanks for reminding me to think outside the box (yet use the box!) and thanks for sharing your insight.
I consider reading your blog akin to drinking from the waters of inspiration. It reminded me that it is time to harness up and enjoy the work. How succinctly put.
Nicely put! As a newbie to the blogging world, I am still struggling to find my “niche”. I like to write and create for the reader. What you wrote will help me out. Thank you!
Congratulations from Rio de Janeiro,Brazil.
Very nice analogy!!!!! Getting organized is one of the hardest parts of writing for me, as I seem to have too many thoughts zinging through my mind. I love the fact that you point out how important working through the difficult part is, in the world of writing. I tell my children, almost daily, that most of the good things in life, are the more difficult ones; the most time-consuming, but in the end they are well worth our effort. Thank you for making me focus on my own advice and helping me to make a more conscientious effort in applying it to my writing.
That is a very clever way to think of it. I like outlining, but it’s also difficult for me to actually get the guts to sit down and do it (although it’s become a lot easier since I started using Scrivener and don’t have to deal with actual, physical notecards). Everybody has stuff they hate to deal with, but you’ll end up stunted if you don’t work on it anyway. 🙂
You post was very well written and left me contemplating. My first book is based on the Law of Attraction and came quite effortlessly to me. In fact the whole experience was so immensely gratifying that I do still wonder at the ease of it. I do love words and so stringing them together is as easy as eating pie.
May I advise you on this. Using the principles of LOA …..when you next sit down to write……simply shut your eyes and think to yourself …..this can be as easy as I want it to be. I trust the intelligence (God) that created me to come to my aid and gratefully accept his help. I will now do my best work…..and lo and behold so you will…..for when your faith in the almighty is unshakable …the results will be as per your expectation every single time.
Coincidentally, I just commented on a blog post about outlining:
If there are a million writers out there (and those are just the ones we know of), there are likely a million-and-a-half opinions about outlining.
It has to be done.
How? is the $64 question.
Hope you find your way.
Personally I don’t find outlining too bad once I’ve actually started. It’s the first few points that are the hardest, and once they’re down the rest tend to come more easily.
Thanks for this.
Such excellent advice and so timely for me. I know I don’t always want to think about it but sometimes writing is hard work. Oh sure, sometimes the mood is on me and the words flow like wine. And sometimes it’s a lot like pulling teeth. I tend to want to avoid my writing when it’s hard. Thanks for reminding me that it isn’t always cake.
While working on my current novel in progress, I found myself in a similar conundrum. I love crafting sentence’s, and writing unique and compelling situations. I hate writing outlines. My reasoning has always been that they feel so constrictive, as if I were limiting my creative potential. Eventually I wrote an outline, printed it out, stuck it in a folder, and promptly forgot about it. And yet, it was very helpful, much more so than I had anticipated.
All of a sudden, all these ideas that were swimming around in my head were written down on paper, rendered more or less concrete. I don’t follow my outline with any sort of enthusiasm, however it did create concrete points in the story I am trying to tell which I can aim for, and when I eventually reach those points, my sense of accomplishment is astronomical compared to crawling around in the dark without a road map at all, as it were.
In any case, great article, I can fully relate.
I am not a writer, but really enjoyed the the post because it is relevant to life in general, specifically my life. I have had a home business since 1995 and I am currently neglecting aspects of my business that I don’t enjoy. And I am neglecting them A LOT. My mother also was a member of the clean plate club, and I now appreciate the fact that that I was taught that there were many things that I didnt want to do, that I had to do anyway. I see so many children these days who are being allowed to “not do” anything that makes them feel a little uncomfortable, and I am not sure how that will prepare them for the real world.
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I used to think that outlining was anathema to truly creative writing, you were not supposed to know the story until the words came flowing out of you spontaneously and magically. So naive. Then I decided to take on a monster project involving multiple tenses and various times in history and the future, and I quickly lost my place and, ultimately, my mind. But now I have a sweet spot for preparing, because it’s exciting to see ahead of time where I get to go (even if things steer off course and go somewhere else, which is awesome too).
I quite like outlining (although it’s an acquired taste rather than a natural love) and i can see its helpfulness when i come to write the first draft – it’s like a kind of roadmap for my creativity. BUT, the ‘Lima Beans’ bit for me is the editing – i hate it. I guess i’ll just have to take some of your Mom’s wisdom and ‘just do it’!
Before I started my first adult novel I took a Fiction Writing course. Since I didn’t know any better, outlining was the only way to go. It took the second Advanced Fiction course to actually learn to write!
But during NaNoWriMo there was no time to outline and I had to write by the seat of my pants. I did it, and now can compare the two methods.
I’ll probably find something in between as my preferred method. Thanks for sharing!
As a writer, I love reading stuff like this. Thanks. Most of the stuff I write professionally is what other people tell me and I construct into a story. I certainly don’t have time for outlines. I can definitely see the benefit in outlines (but not Lima beans) when it comes to writing something more detailed, more original, more profound. Thanks again.
That’s a very nice post and it doesn’t talk about writing and food only. This is an important rule in life as well.
I loved this! I can so see, now that I come to the end of writing what I hope will be my first book, how the journey of writing is exactly like eating lima beans.
I thank you for this motivating blog post!
Congratulations for making Freshly Pressed, Albert! Wise words. When I was pregnant with my son, I actually had a craving for lima bean and cheese quesadilla. I think I was becoming the cook I wasn’t. My husband is sooooo glad I never had that craving again.
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Great post – congrats on being FP! 🙂
Interesting how different writers take different approaches. My storytelling improved when I stopped outlining.
My torture is the second draft, when I discover all that awesome prose I conjured up needs a lot more rewriting than I expected. But it felt so perfect falling out of my head!
I agree completely!!! Great post 🙂
I’m very terrible at planning out my projects. I do this in art and in writing. My professors always seem to give me what’s-what for it, but I’m working on it.
This is just what I needed to hear! My problem lies in flow and transitions, but I’ve been discouraged as of late and haven’t written much. Thank you for sharing!
Life is not a lack of sense of beauty, minus eyes to find beauty.
I would have to agree that I don’t enjoy outlining either. But I have read that if its something you are avoiding to do, then you should probably do it because you need to. And in every case it has made me better.
Great food for thought! (No pun intended)
Congrats on FP! Great post. Once I started teaching, outlining became so easy. For academic materials. Pulling the outline from my head for something I am creating is a different story but necessary as you say.
Also, I despise lima beans to this day, and I eat most everything 🙂
Thanks for this post! I’ve been wrestling recently with how the inspirations for my posts are usually compelling to me as they appear out of nowhere. They burst onto the scene while driving or walking. But then I wonder if what makes them dazzle is that they’re ultimately narcisistic and esoteric. When does the extremely personal become universal and does that drain it of its allure? Wash it out?
I’m completely endorse outlining! I think it would stretch out the time between inspiration and publication. Usually in that time, flavors develop and a richness stews. But is there something inherently boring about the idea that’s essentially a tweet kernel, pounded out into a powdery blog post, published within a 1/2 hour of its inception?
I recently set a goal for myself to try writing in as many different styles that I could think of. Currently, I’m on the poetry section of this goal: a list of 50 types of poetry; one piece in a different style each day; all on the same subject.
So glad I stumbled upon your post. It’s given me new confidence and has reassured me that setting a few seemingly outrageous goals for myself will indeed benefit me in the long run.
Congratulations on being Freshly Pressed!
Ahhhh………3 x 5 cards. I remember them. Nasty little tip of the finger cutting Ginsu knives that slice your fingertips open. Then fall out of your damn pocket into some leftover rain puddle to wash the blood off on the way to class so you could dutifully turn them over to the warden. I’d rather eat a whole damn garden of lima beans than mess with those cards again! Matter of fact, I’ll up the ante. I’d eat a whole garden of boiled okra before I would mess with those cards again. Never thought slimy, boiled okra would rate over anything… but there you have it.
I couldn’t agree more about the sides of writing that are necessary. Versus those that are fun. Myself? I’ve been putting together a non-fiction book I proposed for my publisher which, to make it publishable, has to fit their page grid. Demanding specific word lengths and a particular structure. Which is a grind. We don’t have lima beans much in New Zealand – here everyone’s Mum knew all about cooking those horrible, flabby grey broad beans (Vicia fava). Same childhood dinner horror. And the same literary metaphor, of course.
I have a novel that’s been bleating at me for attention. I’ve been tinkering with it for years. Great fun. But no structure, yet. It’s lacking all those things that Kristen Lamb tells us, on her blog, we must have even for novels. I’ll get there…but it’s going to mean thinking about those specific word lengths and structure – in this case, what’s needed for the dramatic tension, the characterisation and pace. Which I just know is gonna kill the fun. I can see that plate of flabby beans now. Aiyeee…
What a great post! It is so true and so easy to forget that you have to trudge through the hard things to get to the good stuff. I don’t know how many times I’ve tried to remind myself that the more I do the things that don’t come naturally to me, the more natural they become. All it takes is starting somewhere, wading through the uncomfortable things we don’t like, and finally making it to a place we can either recognize or conquer with a sigh of relief.
Great post 🙂
I’m glad I came across this post on the freshly pressed dashboard. Thank you for the Lima beans analogy. My Lima beans will sound ironic, but I don’t like journaling. Usually what I write is either a poem with the intent on getting it ready to publish or a new article, either way I write more on screen than I do on actual pages. It’s a practice I picked up as a reporter. It’s helped me writing on deadline.
But now that I’m in grad school, annotating poems, I’ve learned to appreciate my notebook. I don’t look at it as slowing down my process, but as prep work. I can still hit the keys and knock out an essay I’m pleased with and proud to send out.
very well said. exploring the unexplored. winning the seemingly invincible.
This post is a work of art, brother! I loved the sentence “…playing from our strengths isn’t going to make us great. If we aspire to greatness we’re going to have to learn to work through our weaknesses” so true and so easy to forget!
Forgive my ignorance but what about the 3×5 cards to build the plot, I didn’t got that one… I’m not an experienced author story-builder, I guess…
(ok, there were so many comments here that I didn’t even got to wait for an answer and went to google it…!)
I think the card the people used to carry to write when the idea comes… you know the ideas would not come sometimes
This article is too helpful to me. Thanks…
what i realy just wanted to read about; thank you
So true! And doing all those things we’re not good at makes us better. If I’d realized that writing a memoir involved so many fiction techniques — I’m far better at straight-up non-fiction — I never would have done it. But struggling through dialogue, story arc and all the rest was good for me, both personally and as a writer.
Thanks for a great post. Will tweet.
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Thank you for sharing
The funny thing is that one way or another, you will be forced to ‘eat those beans’ one way or another if you want to be taken seriously. I know I’ve had to actually go back and outline AFTER I wrote something, because it just didn’t feel right. The story didn’t feel connected.
Choke those bad boys down, baby!
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Hit the nail on the head !
Writing with an outline works well for some authors but I don’t think this is necessarily the only way for a writer to approach their work. There are plenty of examples of writers who begin their process without knowing where the story is going to next and many of them are very successful: David Lynch, Charlie Kaufman, Tom Stoppard, Haruki Murakami, Stephen King, etc. If you have a quick deadline, an outline is maybe the best way to go but I think there are as many ways to approach writing as their are writers. It’s essential to keep our creative options as open as possible.
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I am not a writer, but really enjoyed the the post because it is relevant to life in general, specifically my life. I have had a home business since 1995 and I am currently neglecting aspects of my business that I don’t enjoy. And I am neglecting them A LOT. My mother also was a member of the clean plate club, and I now appreciate the fact that that I was taught that there were many things that I didnt want to do, that I had to do anyway. I see so many children these days who are being allowed to “not do” anything that makes them feel a little uncomfortable, and I am not sure how that will prepare them for the real world.
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Another hot fall trend are bags that have top handles. One side flap marked 30, Stamped “Louis Vuitton Paris, Made on France”.
Quilted leather and then velvet are and in. These bags are usually
sophisticated, ladylike, and you will be seen more with classic threads.
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Thanks for sharing your thoughts. I truly appreciate your efforts and I am waiting for your further post thanks once again.
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