Why I’m An Outliner… Sort Of

I’ve written on this topic before, but I wanted to get into more detail about why rather than about the style itself (as seen in this post). I’ve always been one to scoff at well-known planning methods (such as the Snowflake Method), since they generally require me to alter the way I think or to dream up some detail I usually don’t imagine until at least halfway through writing the first draft (OR DRAW THINGS I DON’T WANT TO DRAW BECAUSE I SUCK AT DRAWING). My resistance to established methods kept me hovering between being a pantser (here’s a definition) and planner for years. I was never fond of throwing caution to the wind and just writing whatever feels right, but I also didn’t like the idea of having a rigid structure.

While writing the first draft of Coldfire, I started messing around with a dot-point list of events I wanted to occur a few chapters ahead of where I currently was. It was messy and often the events were irrelevant to the main plot, but it was an outline. Sort of. I later started writing my messy outlines sooner in the writing process until, last year, I wrote the whole thing out before I started writing the novel. Since then, writing without coming up with a plan in advance makes me nervous and I often end up floundering in a tangle of scenes that dig their heels in and refuse to be written. So I guess that settles it: I’m an outliner. In a way. I still prefer a degree of fluidity in my writing, since I have an annoying habit of only discovering who the characters really are about halfway through a first draft (or, in the case of Coldfire, halfway through something like the fourth and then the fifth and then the seventh).

I’m not sure this post is even making sense, since it’s three in the morning and I should probably be asleep right now but I’m strangely hyper instead. What I’m trying to say is I now prefer to plan out the events of my novels before writing them but am too much of a FREEEEE SPIRIT to stick to a rigid outline. And that’s okay. I seem to be doing okay without such restraints.


10 thoughts on “Why I’m An Outliner… Sort Of

  1. I use a similar method for outlining. I generally break my novel into months or days (depending on which is relevant to the story), and then make a list of everything that I think will happen during that time. I’m hoping that if I increase the amount of outlining I do beforehand I’ll decrease the number of drafts I have to write, but I haven’t seen any proof yet that that’s happening. 🙂


    • I don’t quite do the same thing, but I generally keep track of the dates when I’m writing, particularly since my main project involves werewolves influenced by the full moon so I have to work everything around that. I’ve found my writing does seem to have improved since I started outlining more, so there might be some truth to the amount of planning corresponding to the number of drafts. My first novel is currently in its seventh draft (eight if you count the one I call 6.5 where I was preparing it for submission before I threw the whole thing out and started again) and I didn’t plan very much in advance and discovered most of what I now know about the world and characters during the writing. Never. Again.


  2. It makes sense to me at least. I think it’s important to find a strategy, no matter what it is, that works for you (although I believe people are generally less aware of what really works for them than they think they are). For me, writing a novel is like assembling a puzzle. I start from the edges, then gradually work my way inward, putting together the fragments of dialogue, narrative, and description that are floating around in my head.


  3. I am a horrible planner, which is probably why I don’t have the stamina for a long novel. I think in scenes, in moments in time. I will come up with an idea and wing it, finish the scene and then it’s over because I can’t think of what else to do with it. Definitely a failure of planning.

    I might need to look into this, although the danger for me is getting bored. When I start planning, I start losing interest.


    • My planning method is a little… inconsistent. Sometimes I plan it all in advance or sometimes I try to remain a few chapters ahead and plan as I go. You don’t have to go into a lot of detail with planning anyway. Some people just figure out where they want the story to end up and start writing.


  4. Me too! I actually think a lot of people fall somewere in between. I outline the main ideas and the major milestones I want to hit. I also do fairly detailed character descriptions (which, inevitably, I tweak as I go along). I feel like the writing would go faster if I could outline everything in advance, but for some reason the ideas don’t seem to come to me until I’m at the keyboard, hands-a-flying.

    Best of luck on your new WIP. 🙂


  5. I think that is a good balance! You have a plan so you don’t get lost/stuck too easily, yet you still give yourself the freedom to change the plan.

    I think my method is similar. I do have a plan yet sometimes better ideas come later on in the process!


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