Friday, 4 March 2011

The Perfect Outline Trap & A New WIP

I have been going on about how much I like a proper outline, and what wonders it has done for my no holes WIP that I am currently editing. I still hold to that. But I have also discovered a pit-fall, from rather painful, time wasting experience.

For several months now, I have been working on an outline. Granted, I worked on more than one WIP, deciding which one to work on. But it was taking longer than I had anticipated, because what I wanted was a completely detailed outline. I know the beginnings, I vaguely know the endings, but I don't know everything that would happen in the middle, and how it would all be tied together. I was hoping to sort that out in the outline.

I was aware that while I was doing this, of course I wasn't writing. I told myself, that's okay. I need to spend some time on the outline, so story will be better for it from the beginning. So I carried on. But after two months, and not much to show for it, I see how much time I have wasted. Two months of not writing new words - that's not exactly an ideal writer, is it? At least, it is not for me.

So the wake-up call came, as it often does with me, abruptly. The thoughts usually marinate, niggle in my head for a while, and then one day - BOOM! I realise what the hell I have been doing. And need to do something about it.

I made the decision to start writing. Now. Start with whatever fragmented plans I have, and work on it as I go. Even if it means writing a Draft Zero, doing an Outline, and then rewriting it. It doesn't matter. What is important is writing, because only by writing, I can discover and improve on my processes. Theories are all very well, but without application, I cannot know what I have learned.

So I started my new Fantasy WIP on the 1st of March. (See the word-counter to the right) It's going to be a part of my March Writing Challenge. And I look forward to discovering what this process teaches me. But now that I have started writing, the thrill of discovering what happens is back, and I am kicking myself for waiting so long to start a story!

What about you? Do you spend months and months without new words, or are you always writing something? Does editing, planning, etc. take over creating new stories?


  1. Throughout the last year I've found that I work better when I set myself a monthly goal. I can spend some days not writing, just editing or doing other stuff, but at the end of the month I need to have a minimum of writing done. Otherwise, I feel stuck and I find harder to find the motivation to do the editing. As you said: we, the writers, want to write :)

  2. I find that my outlines become briefer and quicker to write with each new WIP, but they still take up more time than I'd like. My latest is entirely with outline (not even any notes in the WIP itself) and, while I don't have much time to write at the moment, it's an interesting experience. ;)

    Best of luck with your new process! :D


  3. Carlos,

    Yes I also find that set goals definitely work better for me, and time line constraints. Just the whole year goal is too vague. Short term goals are the best.


    I wish it was a process. Perhaps, it's the process for this book. I still prefer a detailed outline, but I just don't want to not write because it takes ages. The kind of outline I had for my last book is essentially equivalent of a first draft because everything is figured out. Let's see how this turns out :-)

  4. This is why I became a pantser - because I found I was wasting way too much time on outlines, character sketches, maps, etc. While some people find all these things helpful, for me, personally, they're just another form of procrastination.

  5. Carol,

    It's certainly tricky. Because I genuinely love an outline, but I have now learned that I might not be able to have as detailed outline as I like in the first draft, because some of the things can only come by actually writing, or at least thinking to that much detailed level, and if I am thinking that much then it feels more natural to actually write, then do just the outline. So it's a continuous circle of confusion.

    But I refuse to let it become a tool of procrastination any more, so writing continues.

  6. With my current project I have discovered that outlining and planning too much in detail doesn't really work for me, because as I write, new details I haven't put into account emerge, new and better plot twits, different character dynamics, and they work better than the ones I had planned in advance, so I have decided to stop doing that. I know where the story is going, but I'm leaving a lot of the 'how that happens' open.
    Of course that means a lot of writing and re-writing, and re-writing, and binning of entire chunks, but I like that, I'm not so protective of my words. They're not written in stone, are they? At least as long as they're not published. I guess that every story requires a certain amount of 'wasted' time, so I prefer to waste it writing and re-writing rather than outlining and planning too much.

  7. Michela,

    I love the way you've put it "every story requires a certain amount of wasted time, so I prefer to waste it writing and re-writing rather than outlining and planning too much."


    For my part, I am not yet certain of what could be described as my process. Because right now, I don't have a specific one. Different things work for different books. I like to have an outline in advance, because it saves time, and even though I may change things as I write, outline makes it easier to stay on target, because when I sit down to write I know when what I am supposed to be writing. With no outline, it's often...well what now? And something immediately does not come to mind, I hate sitting at a blank page and not having a plan.

    But this is all about continuous improvement and learning. So no doubt I will learn something new this time around as well.

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  9. That's right Dolly, it's an ongoing learning process for me too, and I'm still new to it. I guess that when you're a professional writer and have deadlines and bills to pay with your work, you can't 'waste' time experimenting, but now I feel like writing as much as I can is what I need to write better, so I enjoy this one great luxury of being in the learning process. And I better... Might last a very long time! ;)