Outlining the Plan

By Shani Petroff

I’m a fan of outlines when it comes to writing a book. If I know where my story is headed, what plot points I need to hit, and what my characters are doing and why, I have an easier time churning out pages — even on days I don’t feel like writing.

Right now, I’m working on a brand-new book and am in the outlining stage. I hit a point where I wasn’t quite sure what I wanted my main character to do next, so I decided to take a break and get a snack. As I headed to the fridge, it struck me — I could outline my weight-loss plan. It’s not that different than outlining a book.

I know the characters — for this story I’m the lead.

I know what “she” wants — to get healthy, reach goal, and find herself in the process.

I know the path she needs to take to get there — follow the Weight Watchers plan, exercise, track, and love herself no matter what the size.

For this particular story (unlike with my books), I’d love a boring plotline: Girl sets out on goal, girl breezes through tasks without any difficulties, girl gets what she wants.

Only life, like a good story, doesn’t go that smoothly. There are hurdles and obstacles. In my case, there’s my archnemesis — lack of willpower and love for sweets and fattening foods, there’s life events that seem to revolve around meals, and even situations where I just make really bad choices. However, what main character doesn’t suffer from some letdowns? It’s how they get up after a fall that shows character. So, in my outline (and hopefully my life), I’m wiping myself off after a slip and continuing on until goal. That’s the overarching plot.

I’m also making mini-daily outlines too. Set times to get up, to exercise, what I’m going to eat and when, and how I plan to tackle certain obstacles — snacks at work, dessert on a date, etc. If I just follow what’s written in my outline, when temptation hits, I’ll know how to conquer it.

That’s the ideal situation.

But things aren’t always ideal. Here’s something I’ve learned about outlines over the years: You can plan all you want, but when you start writing (or living as the case may be for the weight-loss outline) sometimes you’re thrown a curveball. A really unexpected one. One that throws your whole outline out of whack. Maybe it’s a note to get rid of a major character or scene, or in the weight-loss scenario — no access to a kitchen, or an injury, or a crappy mood in which you didn’t care about what food went into your mouth and you’re paying for it now.

Whatever the case, the story is taking a new direction. And that’s okay. Because you still know how you want it to end. So you go back in, you rework the scenarios, tinker around with the order, timeline, what should happen next, details, and before you know it you’re back on track.

And that’s a great thing — because the ending to the story is a good one. The lead reaches goal, she’s achieved everything she set out to do. She gets off the scale with tears in her eyes. It was a long a road, but she made it.

The book ends — and then it’s on to the sequel: maintenance.

It’ll happen. I’m just taking it one book, one chapter, one page, one word a time.

What’s your weight-loss story/outline? You can find me on Connect @shani!

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