To Outline or Not to Outline? That is the Question

Are you a pantser or a planner? Do you find joy in meticulously planning out every aspect of your novel before you actually sit down to write or do you just sit down and let the words flow and see what’s happens?

When I first started writing I swore I was a pantser. I sat down to write my first novel with a vague idea and tons of motivation. I just let the words fly. I was on a high and just kept writing and writing for weeks, with no end in sight. Until I got about 20,000 words in and stalled. What’s that characters name again? The one I mentioned one time at the very beginning? What was that plot twist I thought of at 2am and didn’t write down? Where is this story going and why are my characters doing what they’re doing? Is this actually the story I want to tell? The seed of doubt was planted and for the life of me I could not dig it up and move forward. I ended up scrapping that book because I had no idea what I was writing and why it was important. In that moment I decided that I was no longer a pantser and vowed I would be a planner when I decided to write again.

A few months later I decided I was going to start another book. I spent days thinking about my plot, characters and why I wanted to tell this particular story. I sat down and pumped out an entire outline for my novel, start to finish, including an extremely detailed description of the world my story was set in. I wrote up detailed character backstories, personality traits, idiosyncrasies and the works. I wrote out each chapter scene for scene. By the time I had done all of that I felt like I had already written the book and took a break. I came back to it a few months later and wrote about 20,000 words and haven’t touched it since. I felt like there was no room for any creativity or any new ideas because I had already written my entire book. Obviously I’m not a planner either.

In my experience, neither way works perfectly and there are flaws in both ways of writing a novel. Writing by the seat of your pants can get messy. Without writing things down and having a clear picture for your novel, your story becomes muddled and important details get forgotten. Meticulously planning your story can take the mystery and creativity out of the writing process, atleast it did for me.

In trying both methods I realized that there needs to be another style, one that allows for the creative flow of the pantser and the structure of the planner. This past year I came back to that first book and tried to loosely plan and finish writing it. I wrote out all the chapters, but left my chapter outline vague so I could fill in the blanks as I went. This time, I made it to 60k words before scrapping it as I couldn’t get past the mistakes I made during my fist go. One day I’ll find my perfect writing style, hopefully one that allows me to finally finish one of my novels!

What are you? A pantser or planner?

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