Unlearning Fartlek Writing

I know, I know. It sounds gross. Let’s get the homonym-based jokes out of the way right now. Even if it could be done, no one wants to lick a fart.

Fart is Swedish for speed, and lek is Swedish for play.

Fartlek is actually a kind of training that involves mixing sprints in with your running. That’s why it’s called Fartlek–speed play–because it combines those varying speeds. When I ran Cross Country in high school, we did fartlek training by combining all-out sprints, of different distances, to our running workout. Sometimes we sprinted between road signs, sometimes our sprints were the length of whole blocks, other times we would sprint to the top of a hill. The rest of the time, we ran at a regular cross-country pace. The sprints upped our endurance and trained our bodies how to push hard even when we felt like we were running out of gas.

I came to realize that, in crafting my novels, I often did fartlek writing. When I started a new story, I would run with my plans and outlines for a while. I really wanted to plan the entire novel in an outline, but I had a difficult time doing it. I got too excited about the story, and too afraid that I’d forget to write a great idea the way I knew I could do it right then. That’s when I sprinted ahead and left my plans in the dust. I’d write according to the plans I had, but I’d keep going so that entire chapters were written with little more than a thought of this is where the story needs to go.

There is one major problem I always ran into when I would write like this. Eventually, I word-sprinted my way into a corner or brick wall of writer’s block. I’d have to slow down again and get my scene planning and outline material back into order. That slowing down let me reevaluate things and focus on the story instead of word-vomiting all over the place (I know. Gross), but it wasn’t easy to get the story back on track once I had jumped the rails.

I think part of the reason why I would do this (my issue, so to speak) is because I never really thought of crafting an outline as actual writing. I thought writing meant word output on a manuscript. So, when I would outline, I always got impatient about wanting to get to the actual writing and start hammering out the manuscript before the outline was done (and I still want to do that all the time!).

But, I’ve since learned that outlining is writing.

In fact, outlining is probably more important than what follows. Crafting a solid outline is like laying the entire foundation of a building before you start throwing down floors and walls. If you don’t have the foundation set first, the whole thing is going to cave in on itself. This is probably the most difficult thing I’ve had to learn, and it still doesn’t feel natural. I’m an impulsive person and when my impulse screams at me to start writing the manuscript, it’s not easy for me to rein that in. I’ve only done it once before.

But I’m doing it now.

Right now, I am forcing myself to write a full outline before I start writing my current project, which is actually a complete rewrite of my first novel. (I tried this once before, but I got impatient again, started writing before the outline was finished, and wasn’t pleased with the result). This time, I plan to scrap everything I’ve previously written and start fresh from my outline. I know the general idea of the story. After all, it’s been fermenting in my head since 2003. The cool thing is that the outline has already revealed holes in the story that I hadn’t noticed before, and some transitions that I forced instead of thinking them through creatively.

The outline work will make the story better. I know it will, in part, because the best novel I’ve written to date had a full outline. It worked really well. When I started writing its sequel, however, I jumped ahead and got stuck. Go figure. #facepalm #fail #LessonNotLearned

So, I decided to set that sequel aside for a while (sometimes I need distance from a project before I can come back to it and think clearly with fresh ideas) and try the outline thing on my first novel. I’m not finished with my outline yet, but I’m sticking with it. My impulsiveness wants to dive into the manuscript, but I’m staying the course and working through this thing. I know it’ll lead to a more polished manuscript when all is written and done.

So, I guess this is my transition from a pantser to a planster, to a planner. No more fartlek for me. I’m writing an outline, and that is actual writing!

~Christopher