I learned something about myself this year. I am a seat-of-the-pants type of writer. My first trilogy was written scene by scene, without any knowledge of what was going to happen in the next chapter. Sure, I had the general idea of how to finish the book, but other than the beginning and the end, I was clueless of how the story would turn out.
However, after attending some writer’s conferences and reading books on writing, I got the idea that writing an outline makes the revision stages of a book easier, because you don’t have to re-puzzle all the scenes together. (Something I know all too well about by writing my books in seat-of-the-pants mode.) It’s true! If you don’t outline, chances are, you’re going to move your scenes around, and in moving them, you’re going to have to rewrite many of them.
So I tried outlining. I started writing a new book, sure to outline the entire thing first. I got about 20,000 words in before I got bored. I already knew what was going to happen, and even though my readers wouldn’t know, I still didn’t see the point in finishing the book. It was the same feeling a reader might get if they picked up a book, skimmed through all the chapters, and then decided to read it. The book wouldn’t be quite as exciting because they would already know what was going to happen in the next chapter.
However, I thought it was the story that bored me, not that fact that I had outlined it, so I began a new book with the same approach- I outlined the entire thing. I didn’t even get 10,000 words into this one before I got bored again. I began thinking that maybe I was a one-trick-pony, that writer who writes ONE story and never writes again. I was discouraged and wondered if I should even bother writing again.
But I wasn’t about to give up. I picked my third story idea, (I have about a dozen ideas buzzing around in my head,) and I decided NOT to outline. I wrote it scene by scene, just the way I had written my original book. The outcome? I am currently 30,000 words into the story and I can’t wait to sit at the keyboard and write more!
You see, outlining and seat-of-the-pants writing have their pros and cons. I can’t speak for everyone but here’s what I think.
If you outline, you’ll know every part of the story (no surprises!), BUT you’ll have a lot less work to do when you revise your book, because you will have already thought through the scene orders and the benefits of putting certain scenes in certain places. If you want to get that book done quickly, outlining is probably the best option.
Seat-of-the-pants writing, on the other hand, is like reading one of those books with the options at the end of the chapter “If you want Andrew to fall into the ocean, go to this page. If you want Andrew to hike through the dark forest, turn to this page.” But even then, you have more options than two. You have dozens of scenes to choose from! How exciting! You are literally writing the book you’ve always wanted to read, and you’re calling all the shots AS you read. Seat-of-the-pants writing is FUN. But it’s harder work in the long run. I cannot tell you how many times I’ve revised and revised and revised my first trilogy. I’ve even gone so far as to turn Book One into two books (adding 80,000 more words), and then going back and turning it back into one book (which resulted in cutting out 100,000 words). It is A LOT of work, and it takes a lot of dedication. But if you’re passionate about your work, if you want to present the best story for your readers, you know the effort is worth it.
But all minds think differently. This is just my opinion and my experience. To all aspiring novelists who are just starting out, try both approaches before you decide on only one. You may like the seat-of-the-pants approach, but you might find outlining a lot easier for you, or vise-versa.
Of one thing I am certain: make sure you are having fun!!