This will almost certainly destroy any claims I could lay to being part of the novelists' union, but here's a dirty, filthy, terrible little secret: Up until Flight of the Vajra, I never wrote story outlines. [Voices offstage: "Yeah, and we can tell!"]
Actually, I did do such a thing, once upon a long time ago in a galaxy far, far, etcetera, but nothing ever came of it. I'd outline, and halfway through the outline I'd find myself getting bored. Great, I'd tell myself, I went from having this terrific idea to leaving myself with a stupid fill-in-the-blanks exercise. I hated the idea of making what was supposed to be a creative act into a mere paint-by-numbers job — and even if it wasn't actually like that, that was sure how it felt.
Most bad habits take a lifetime to build, silently, and then another lifetime to break, not so silently. Bad habits form when your back is turned, and with no sunlight on them to disinfect them, they spread until they cover everything. The silent way this no-outline habit came to cover every available surface in my imagination stemmed from the simple unwillingness to challenge my central conceit about the whole thing — that outlining would turn anything that looked fun into something not-fun.
By the time Flight of the Vajra rolled around, I had no choice but to break that habit. That was also, not coincidentally, the first time I started keeping a set of external notes about a book while writing it. No, I hadn't done that before either, shockingly enough. I was, as you can see, under more than one delusion — this one being the notion that if I couldn't hold the entire story in my head, including the stuff that would never go on the page, I didn't deserve to be writing it. (One glance at Dostoevsky's notebooks disabused me of such arrogance, and fast.)
It's easy to be a romantic about most anything. The romance of creativity is some of the most seductive romance out there, because few people will argue you out of it. Even I think most of the prescriptive formulas for How To Write are bogus; they might be useful to experiment with, but you can't pattern your actual work habits in their mold lest you just become a copyist.
But there's a point where the romance ends and the hard work begins. And even my most diligent wiki-tracking didn't prevent me from making a few fat-fingered mistakes in Vajra (mental note to self: push corrections to Amazon). At some point inspiration and romanticism has to take a backseat to the degree of personal discipline without which nothing creative ever actually happens.
New York City
Other Lives Of The Mind