James Patterson and Alan Watt on Outlines

Yesterday, I called Rachel and at some point we started talking about Ottessa Moshfegh, which led me to search online for the name of the how-to book she used to start writing Eileen, and I found it: Alan Watt’s The 90-Day Novel. Impulsively, I bought it and The 90-Day Rewrite. Today, I’m scrolling through Rewrite and thinking about a few of the suggested questions to keep in mind during this first week of revision: (1) What do I want to express through this story? (2) What is the most effective order of events to tell it? (3) Do I have a worthy antagonist? There are eleven questions total, but I’m happily stuck on these three. By the end of the week, I really do hope to have answers.

In related news, for Christmas I got a subscription to MasterClass, and I started with James Patterson’s. Actually, I started with Margaret Atwood’s, but skipped to Patterson. One thing I appreciate is that he’s transparent about not being here to make great works of literature. Instead, he’s gonna tell you about his own process—a streamlined, efficient one—for writing books that sell.

At this point, perhaps one of the largest-order challenges I could pose to myself is to write a plot-driven novel. So, because I’m open to giving it a try, I’m ready to absorb all the advice that’s out there. Like Moshfegh, I consider it an experiment and also just want “to write a novel to start a career where I could live off publishing books.” Except in my case, I just want to supplement my salary to be able to pay off Lit Pub and student loan debt in time to maybe retire if I live to be 80.

Anyway, Patterson makes writing commercial fiction seem doable. And he says to begin with an outline. Watt’s 90 Day Rewrite also says to begin with an outline. For Patterson, the real work happens in the outline—mapping the entire trajectory of the story, layering onto it the protag’s emotional journey, and writing each chapter toward what you want your reader to feel, which he says is a cat-and-mouse game readers want to play. For Watt, now that we know what we’re working with, we can reorder what we have and map these moving parts onto a traditional three-act outline. Day One’s exercise is to do this, to fill in the blanks on the outline template he provides. So. Here goes nothing. Day One.