Outlines are Creative Writing’s Best Friend

tiny unicorn opolite typing

We all have assumptions. And sometimes those assumptions serves us ok.

Assumptions like “Planning is good for buildings and other physical products” and “creating is an impulse.”

But a lot of the time, especially when we create new art and stories, those asumptions are wrong. When you create things, you gotta bend or break the rules to create something that’s worth a damn.

To that end, I say that outlines – that pesky tool that some creatives think gets in the way of writing because it’s used for book reports and not novels – outlines are not just handy in creative writing and storytelling. They are necessary.

Allow me to explain.

When it comes to how our brains work, we have this assumption that there’s a left and right brain, and that planning and logistics are logical, left brain functions, while creative expression and intuition are the domain of the impulsive and emotional right brain.

Except our brains don’t really work that way. When we create, multiple parts of our brain, not just the right hemisphere, light up with activity. The same is said for doing logical problems, especially math. Multiple parts of our brain light up. How many of us got creative with math problems?

I know I did. And I aced all my math classes.

So why are logic and organization shunned in the creative arts?

I don’t know (leave your thought on this in comments).

But I like using outlines for when I write, especially when I write for my comics. Why?

Because outlines help me figure out what’s next when my creative juices are stuck in the valve of expression. Outlines are the Drain-O that opens the valve.

Recently I was writing in a new comic script. The story is about an autistic girl, who’s exploring a town in a post-alien-colonized Earth to find a cyborg that killed her father.

I was writing act 1 when I stopped and went, “Crap. I don’t know what’s going to happen next.”

So I walked away from it and shuffled through my notes of the story, which I keep in a notebook on my shelf.

I opened this notebook, and LO AND BEHOLD! There was an outline of act 1 that included events leading into act 2.

I then took the time to write out an outline for act 2. It only took about ten minutes.

And when I returned to my script, I wrote three new pages!

Ten minutes of outlining saved me hours of staring at a computer screen and wracking my brain for ideas.

My outlines aren’t even all that detailed. They’re essentially one-sentence ideas for scenes.

But it works for me.

I know I intend on writing more outlines for my stories. I have one in particular, about a haunted house and some elementary school students that explore it, that desperately needed an outline before I jumped into it. I’m going to take the time to write one up for that before I continue any further.

So the next time you get stuck when writing something, take ten minutes to write an outline. Your brain may thank you for it.

Thanks for reading!

You. Are. Awesome.

How To Run a Table at Artist Alley

I was at Phoenix Comicon this past weekend. Now that it’s done, I have the focus to talk about how to run a table at Artist Alley.

I’ve had tables at conventions for a little over four years now. With all of that experience, here are some of the basics I learned. Let’s start with before and during the con:

  • Get your table number. Sounds so basic it’s dumb, but it’s super important to know where your table is at the convention. On that note, know where the Artist Alley will be in the building. Find the room number and where the bathrooms and food are located.
  • Bring water. This is especially important because you’ll be talking to a lot of folks. Bring snacks if you can, too (it’ll save you money because con food can get pricey).
  • Bring a buddy. Your buddy will help you sell your work, watch your table while you get food (or even better, get food for you both), and watch over the table while you go to the bathroom. Your buddy can be anybody: a friend, a significant other, your work partner, your mom…
  • Take breaks. You’re either doing a lot of standing or a lot of sitting. Take a second to stretch out even if you can’t leave your table. Be on your feet for a bit if you’re sitting a lot. Extensive periods of sitting is actually very bad for your health.

When you’re at the convention, you should have these things with you for your Artist Alley table:

  • Tape. To hang signs on your table, make minor repairs, or help out another artist who forgot their tape.
  • Cashbox, with $50 in bills. Really you can have over $50 if you can manage it. My point is, you NEED change. Because there will be customers who have $20 or $50 bills and they will be sad if you can’t make change for them. (People want to support you).
  • A Card Reader. You can get one from Paypal or Square. I use Square. Either way, they connect via your smart phone. So bring that with you, as well.
  • A Sketchbook and some art supplies for commissions. There will be people asking if you do commissions. Be prepared.
  • Sharpies for signing your work.
  • A Notebook for tracking sales. I track my sales by day, one day on each page. Tracking sales will tell you what’s working and what isn’t, so you know what to make for next year (or next con).
  • Scissors (optional) just in case it’s hard to cut your tape or something snags. Alternatively you can be Cosplay Medic, helping cosplayers fix their costumes on the spot.

Running sales? This will be tricky for some of you. There are tips everywhere online to help you sell better. Some articles will be linked in a moment.

However, I’ve been in retail sales for four years, not counting the convention circuit. I’ve personally found the following things to be helpful:

  • Don’t be a salesman. At least, don’t be the stereotype of a salesman. You know the stereotype: sleazy, weird, and not too interested in the people they’re talking to unless that person becomes a means to an end. Alternatively,
  • , where the customer is always right and you do everything possible to please them, even if you think they’re a grade-A creeper or a professional douche nozzle. Also, there will be people who say they will buy your work but never come back. Accept this. It will happen.
  • Talk to your customers like they’re people. Because really, your customers are people. They may be excited, bored, lost, or overwhelmed. Try to understand where they are coming from. Ask them if they’re enjoying the con so far. Pay attention to what they say and how they say it. Don’t try to change their attitude. Just meet them halfway and have a conversation. (This is a good way to make friends, too. Friends are awesome).
  • Rotate your pitch. Your pitch is how you explain your work to people. Try to have two or three different spins on your pitch so you don’t repeat yourself (that much) – or worse, annoy your table partner or neighbors.
  • At the end of the day, take some time for yourself. I’m a bit of an introvert. But when I’m selling at a con, I’m in full engagement mode and talk to almost everyone I meet. However, I take some time afterwards to be by myself and calm down so I don’t overstimulate. Do the same for yourself so you don’t drain.

If you need more pointers on selling, 99U made a good article for introverts on self promotion.

The Webcomic Alliance also have a useful post about table set-up (though be warned that it can get pretty heavy on the marketing jargon, like “optimize,” “brand,” and “content”).

Thank you for reading!

If you found this blog post useful, please let me know in comments and share it with your friends!

You. Are. Awesome.