As I just started writing my next novel, I’ve been thinking about my process. There’s a divide between those writers who swear that the best way is to outline every plot point and other writers who prefer to be more loosey goosey, thinking outlining will curb their creativity. There’s no correct way, other than what works for each individual writer, so I thought it might be fun to compare what I do with some of my writer friends.
All week, I’ll be featuring posts in an outlining debate, starting with myself today and later with Donna Bowman Bratton, Nikki Loftin, Bethany Hegedus, Jessica Lee Anderson and P.J. Hoover on how they work.
To start the ball rolling, here are my thoughts on outlining:
With all of my novels, the idea came from something small and grew from there. When I first started, I wrote from the seat of my pants, coming up with scenes as I went, but I always felt anxious that my story didn’t have any real direction. After a few chapters, I’d get an idea and have to go back and rework my earlier pages to accommodate it. Then a few more chapters, and I’d have to do the same thing again. And I got stuck — a lot.
I also tried completely outlining the entire book, but when the characters surprised me and I followed them, I again got lost.
In my first book, it didn’t take me long to figure out that the problem was not so much with how much of the story I had figured out beforehand; it was in my lack of continuous writing. I would write when I felt I had time, which was a few hours every other month. When I changed my viewpoint and instead made time to write every day, the story flowed out much more easily.
With my second novel, I didn’t outline. I had the concept and started writing, and then I did a lot of re-writing as the plot changed. But I discovered something interesting: as I wrote, the story unfolded in front of me like headlights illuminating a road at night. And it wasn’t until I got to the halfway point that the climax came into view. With this process, I still had a lot of shaping early on until I was on the right track and moving foward to the end.
So, on my third novel, I changed things up a bit. Before I started writing, I figured out a very thin line between the premise, the beginning and —and this is the best part — the end. Knowing the end helped me have a direction, and that helped me enormously in the writing. Sure things still changed while I was writing, the main character and world evolved, and that meant reworking earlier chapters. But knowing the entire line of the story from beginning to end, I was better able to see where the story started and how to get to the end.
So, what’s my process? On my current novel, I knew the premise, the beginning and the character, but beyond that I wasn’t sure where the story would go. I started to write and after a couple chapters was floundering. I brainstormed with my husband over tooth-brushing one morning and the main through line spat out, including the ending. Now I’m ready to zoom through my first draft.
So, I guess I’m a betweener in the to outline or not to outline debate. I need to know my characters, where they started and where they will end up, plus a few highlights along the way, but otherwise, their journey will come as I type.
Stay tuned tomorrow to hear from Donna Bowman Bratton, who writes non-fiction and recently signed with agency Red Fox Literary (congrats!).
Where are you on the outline debate?