A few years ago, when I was stuck in a plothole and procrastinating actually writing myself out of it, I came across the “Snowflake Method” of plotting a book. It looked like an original approach to outlining, and I wanted to give it a try. Of course, I was already waist-deep in a meandering second draft of my novel, so it wasn’t the time to spend a couple of weeks re-hashing a plot I had already sketched out in a first draft. Besides, I wanted to try it on a story I hadn’t already been working on for a long time.
Flash-forward to the last two weeks of April this year. I had survived my first year away from home at university, and FINALLY had time to seriously sit down and work on my latest project. It was an idea that I’d been developing for two years, but I had only started working on the first draft of it this school year (and written a whopping one chapter in that time…). The plot needed some serious work, so I thought to myself, why not give the Snowflake Method a try? And I did.
I made it half-way through step 6 (skipping all the character development steps because I had already made character profiles that I was pleased with, and I’m lazy and didn’t want to do it all again), and then I stopped. I couldn’t quite figure out why. Was I just lazy? Was it because I didn’t know my story well enough yet and it needed to cook longer in my brain? What was going on?
I found myself googling criticisms of the Snowflake Method, wondering if maybe this wasn’t a method that was going to work for me. This article got me thinking that maybe forcing myself to continue to use the snowflake method wasn’t such a great idea after all. So I set aside my Snowflake Method document, and got back to actually writing my book.
Was my flopped attempt at outlining a novel using the Snowflake Method really a flop though? I would say no. I learned something important about myself and how I like to write through this experience, and I have actually referred back to my outline several times while writing, so it wasn’t a waste of time. I still don’t know how my book is going to end, but I do know how I want the first two-thirds to three-quarters of it to go. And not knowing the ending right now is ok. I realized that part of why I got stuck outlining was because I didn’t know my characters well enough yet to understand what they will do and how they will drive the plot forward. And the only way I can get to know them is to actually get inside their heads and write them. To me it feels like there is not much point spending a lot of time making up some half-baked ending when in all likelihood by the time I actually get around to writing the ending, the story will have changed so much my outline is useless anyways.
You’re probably wondering to yourself at this point, where is the best writing advice ever as claimed in the title? Don’t worry, I have it right here:
Do what works for you.
This goes for any kind of creative work, not just writing. Everybody’s brains and imaginations and personalities are different, which means that there are no perfect plotting or outlining or writing methods that will work for everybody or even for most people. If you like the three-act-structure, or the hero’s quest, or the Snowflake Method, or are a hardcore pantser (writing with no outline whatsoever AKA flying by the seat of your pants), fantastic! If you like to method-hop between pansting and plotting/outlining, great. If you’re more productive with a story playlist, or with no noise whatsoever, or you do your best work on the subway, wonderful. The important part is not how you make art, or even what art you make. The important part is that you make art. Be creative. Have fun. Work hard. Do what works for you.
And don’t forget at the end of each day to thank God for the amazing brain and the ability to create and imagine that He has given each and every one of us.