Outlining for Pantsers


In response to L. Jagi Lamplighter’s advice against outlining novels, commenter roughcoat asks the following:

Funny that she gave the advice about not outlining. Not over-outlining, really. I’ve been struggling with exactly that recently.

I’m a very inconsistent writer (productivity-wise) and I’ve been trying to nail down a process that actually works reliably. Since I had great success in NaNoWriMo doing detailed daily outlines near the end—when I had to write 3000+ words a day to catch up—I thought that was a good way forward, even though I was never an outliner before.

But my output the last few months has been dismal. I think I’ve written like 10,000 words this year so far. The problem is exactly what she says: once I figure out the complete plot and a bunch of details ahead of time, it’s hard to write because I lose interest. I can grind it out if it’s a short story, but it doesn’t come easily. I have a dozen great 15-25k word stories plotted out and developed but I just can’t bring myself to write them.

Back to the old “only plan a few thousand words ahead but have a general idea of how it’s going to end” method I suppose.

Some writers are natural outliners. Others are natural pantsers. A defining lament of the latter is that they lose interest in writing once they “know how the story goes”. These are the writers who feel like they have a story inside burning to get out, and writing the outline satisfies that urge.

An outliner approaches writing a novel like a builder approaches a construction project. It’s not enough for me to draw up the blueprints. I’ve got to see the job through until that book is standing tall, shiny, and proud amid the KDP skyline.

In contrast to panters, if I don’t have those blueprints, the final product will be the literary equivalent of the house Ned’s neighbors built.

I suspect Jagi advised against outlining because John doesn’t outline. Then again, he’s John. 

Now that I’ve worked as a professional editor for a year, I can tell you that, at minimum, every new author needs to outline.

If you’re a pantser, don’t worry. I’ve got you covered. Go ahead and pants your first draft. Then, once you’ve got the story off your chest, go back and write an outline to impose some order on the chaos. Do your revisions using the outline as a guide.

Don’t know how to write an outline? Consult this handy guide that presents eight outlining options.

And check out The Door into Nowhere, part one of Somewhither by my fellow Dragon Award-winner John C. Wright!

John C. Wright - The Door into Nowhere

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