Sunday, June 17, 2012

You Don't Have To Be An Outliner

I've been meaning to follow up on my last post for a whole week, and somehow haven't gotten around to it. It's like I have a newborn in the house or something.

Anyway, I found the comments to my post very interesting because it seemed like some people thought I was saying you MUST plot out your book to be a "real writer."Which, so not what I was saying. While I do believe that taking a close look at plot and being willing to drastically change your plot is vital to creating a good story, that doesn't mean you have to do that up front.

I don't. While I am much more aware of plot as I draft, I would still consider myself very much a "free drafter." I don't plan or outline. I might make very vague notes as I go along, but it's never more than a few chapters ahead and it constantly changes. This works for me. You have to do what works for you.

What I meant wasn't to promote outlining, but to say to that no matter how you get the words out, you have to be willing to change them all if necessary. You could plot out everything "perfectly" before you write and still have to rewrite whole passages, you know? Or you could wing it and have to rewrite the whole thing. Or maybe it comes out fairly in tact the first go around, so the changes are smaller. Every book is different, and you have to do what is best for that book.

Regardless of how you work, part of becoming a better writer is attitude. It's about willing to go the extra mile—or twenty. Okay, one hundred. It's about pushing yourself for the sake of getting the story right. Not just "good enough," but amazing and airtight. It's about doing what's best for the book even if it's hard and will take more time than you want it to. It's about putting the craft first and publishing second.


  1. Yes, you've got a little one who keeps wondering why you can't read their mind, all the while thinking, "Mom? Hey, Mom, look, there's a few things we need to talk about. First, I'm not all that fond of the decor in my bedroom? Could we get some psychedelic purple on the walls? Mom? Mom? Oh, well. It'll have to wait until I figure out this talking thing."

    I outline, of course, but I think as writers we need to adapt as we go along, to be willing to improvise instead of sticking strictly to the plan.

  2. I don't outline either, but I've started a new thing that is helping me get more words on the screen in each writing session. I take my handy-dandy notebook and spend five minutes bulleting out what I want to see happen in the next chapter. If it doesn't work in bullet form, I X it out and try again. These mini-chapter outlines help me organize my thoughts without stealing my story's flexibility!

  3. Great points, Natalie. It's all about each person finding what works for them, and being willing to work at it.

  4. And sometimes it will take forever. Or at least it feels that way.

  5. I like this. In my current work, I've been plotting some main ideas along with some subpoints to give me a general idea of what constitutes those main ideas, and every time I get a new idea, I throw it in there and see what I get. Sometimes it gets better, sometimes it doesn't.

    But as long as it stays true to the characters, changing your plot is not that big of a deal. Yes, you have to rewrite. So what? Why shouldn't you rewrite? Sometimes you find that you're circling the bulls-eye, and with those few changes brought on by rewriting, bam! Bulls-eye hit.

    I think that Natalie might be saying that, in essence, drafting is when you put your thoughts on paper; worry about the rigid structure afterwards. Which is a philosophy that I support. Being flexible with your ideas (read: outline) can never steer you wrong. You'll always learn from it, one way or another.

    Good post, Natalie.

  6. I'm pretty much a seat-of-the-pants kind of writer. I just let the story take me where it wants to go. Usually. But this time, my advisor (I'm in a writing program) challenged me to outline the story. I began outlining it when I was a third of the way through the book. Having a direction in which to go helps. But I still have the freedom to ignore the outline if the plot points don't really help the progression of the story or if I make new discoveries about the characters as I write.

  7. Ah, yes, attitude. It is all about that.

  8. Thanks so much for another great post! I agree with you - especially the part where you said, "It's about pushing yourself for the sake of getting the story right. Not just "good enough," but amazing and airtight. It's about doing what's best for the book even if it's hard and will take more time than you want it to."

    But I was wondering, how do you know when you've reached "amazing and airtight?" How do you know when you need to keep pushing vs. ok, you passed perfect 3 months ago and now you're nit-picking, over-analyzing, over-editing, and second-guessing yourself?

    I'm guessing that's where an agent/editor comes in. But for those of us who are trying to get to the "amazing" place in order to land an agent, how do we know when we're there? Any thoughts?

    Thanks so much!

  9. I am, as another writer so eloquently put it, a "vomit" writer. I have to get it all out first...THEN go back to strengthen the story. More work perhaps, but when I tried to do the outline, attempted to edit as I worked, I ended up putting myself firmly into writer's block...worried I had messed up my entire story line. A small vacation of no writing definitely helped.

    You are absolutely correct, you must do what is best for you as a writer.