Last updated on October 16, 2021
The Inside Outline method w/ Jennie Nash
An online class hosted by Jane Friedman
Having bashed out another 3-Day Novel over the Labour Day long weekend I wanted to harness my creative momentum. So I turned to a manuscript that had been vexing me for too long, believing I could “write my way” through its problems.
I should have known better.
All my energy quickly dissipated and I did what I usually do–changed some words, fiddled with some sentences, moved a few paragraphs, deleted a whole section, put it back, flipped a thesaurus, made an appointment with my barber, and then went to my deck and drank a beer.
I was stuck in the doldrums of the middle. I literally gave myself a headache.
Fortunately, and clearly in a bought of optimism, just before launching into the 3-Day Novel, I’d registered for “The Inside Outline: A simple tool to make the hardest part of writing a book go 10x faster.”
Now, when I see something promising a “simple tool” so you can work “10X faster,” well my innate skepticism starts buzzing. Short form: uh-huh.
But, well, holy-the-fuck, using what I learned rescued me from the middle doldrums.
I’ve attended a lot of writing classes and courses and seminars–way too many, it’s a bit of a habit–but The Inside Outline is the only one I have been able to put into immediate practice.
A simple way to help you write your novel
So what is the Inside Outline?
The Inside Outline merges two writing common practices, improvising–aka “pantsing”–and plotting, into one system for writing a novel.
(I prefer the word improvising; because for a person my age, “pantsing” is its own special horror and not a word worth retrieving from the archive and rehabilitating. And I think improvising is more accurate.)
Nash points out that since novels are complex and multifaceted beasts, they need structure to convey what is happening logically and, at the same time, need to engage the reader’s emotions.
And when sitting down at the keyboard, what many writers do is thunder down one of the two paths–they improvise, assuming structure will arise as they write. (Maybe it does, but it’s incredibly time-consuming and can push back finishing a novel by many months or years.)
Or they grind down the plotting path and create a structure so intricate and logical that missing the core of the story. (It’s a cold and lifeless beast, DOA in the reader’s hands.)
The Inside Outline offers a solution to this bifurcation in a way that is useful to both improvisers and plotters. Nash says it’s a simple tool, but it’s not an easy tool to use.
I agree it’s not easy. It’s hard work. But it gets the hard work of novel writing out of the way early, so one can move forward with writing with less apprehension and confusion.
How does the Inside Outline work?
What the Inside Outline does is marry Plot (outside/what happens) and Point (inside/the meaning to the character).
I think the easiest way to explain how the Inside Outline is with a screenshot from Nash’s presentation.
The BECAUSE OF THAT is what gives the book narrative drive.
And that is the core of it.
There are firm rules to creating an Inside Outline for your novel–like it shouldn’t be more than three pages (yikes!)–but learning from Nash directly is way more engaging and useful than I can summarize here. (Her case study is useful and important to see.)
My biggest takeaway from the class came after viewing the course a second time and using the system. It confirmed to me that I am a mix of improviser and plotter.
My plotting tends to be scattershot but I still often fail to unearth the underlying story in what I’m writing.
But using Nash’s Inside Outline system helped me to define and organize the real plot.
In fact, using the Inside Outline method helped give me fresh insights into what I was really writing about, revealed to me my real protagonist, and helped me sort out the motivations of some important, but minor characters.
Is this class for you?
Clearly, I believe (Nah, I know) I benefited from learning and using the Inside Outline. I think this is because it meshes with my huge belief in creative constraints/constrained writing (Oulipo anyone?).
And I benefited because I had a manuscript that needed rescue–part of the stated target audience for class just like this.
The writers I think would most benefit from learning and adopting the Inside Outline are struggling with a new or failing manuscript and new writers who want to establish good writing habits early.
Although overly committed improvisers might say it’s just another plotting tool that suffocates their creativity in the crib, it’s definitely not that. So if that’s you give it a try.
The Inside Outside tool makes you think before writing. And as Don DeLillo once said, “Writing is concentrated thinking.”
So it’s highly worth learning the Inside Outline from Nash. You can take the online class here, or you can buy her latest book, Blueprint for a Book: Build Your Novel from the Inside Out.
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This post does not contain any affiliate links and I received no other benefits or payment for this review.
Reviewed from partial live attendance and from online replay and transcripts.
Class date: September 22, 2021, noon CDT.
All material, unless otherwise noted, Copyright © Todd Besant. All rights reserved.
Todd Besant is an author, editor, publisher, reader, introvert, secret blogger, stargazer, freethinker, powerlifter, kitchen dancer, and car singer. He is a novice iPhoneographer and is keen to enhance his skills and to dip his fingers into lomography.
He is overly fond of fine pencils, cool notebooks, pocket knives, waxed canvas shoulder bags, Moscot eyeglasses, coffee, bourbon, flat caps, clothing for shorter men, and men’s grooming products–especially hair pomades, beard oils and balms, and anti-aging creams. Todd is taller online, comprehensively skeptical, and as analogue as possible under the circumstances.
He is a settler on Turtle Island. Todd lives on Treaty 1 Land that is the territories of Anishinaabeg, Cree, Oji-Cree, Dakota, and Dene Peoples and the Traditional Homeland of the Métis Nation, in Winnipeg, MB, a city carpet tacked to the still damp clay bed of a proglacial lake created during the Holocene Glacial Retreat.
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