Author Toolbox Blog Hop–Outlining, Yay or Nay?

It’s time for the Author Toolbox Blog Hop! The hop takes place the third Wednesday of every month (minus November/December) and focuses on the sharing of resources and learning tools for authors.

Stop by the hop page and check out all the participants and their posts this month! Also check outย #AuthorToolboxBlogHop on Twitter.

Finding Your Way By the Stars, or With a Map?

First, I want to apologize for missing the hop last month–life and work have been stressful and chaotic. I’m hoping to get back on a regular blogging (and writing) schedule at long last, now that work isn’t so rough. We all go through tough times as writers, don’t we? Times that try us and tear us away from our creativity. I think the important thing is to not give up and hope for the best. That’s what I’ve been trying to do, anyway!

Today, I’m going to talk about outlining, or, in my case ‘loose outlining.’ You’ve probably heard the terms “plotter” and “pantser” in reference to writers. If not, a “plotter” is the type of writer who works out the story before writing it–whether it be in notes, an outline, or by creating a structure for the story in some other way before actually getting down to business. A “pantser” is a writer who just dives in and makes up the story as they go along, aka they’re writing by the seat of their pants. Both camps tend to have their own way of doing things and often view the other as some kind of aliens. I know I did for a long time! ๐Ÿ˜€

Here’s the thing: for most of my writing life, I was a pantser. It was just how my brain worked. I would come up with ideas, and have some kind of vague direction I was going, but I just got in the water and swam, and let the current take me where it would. This probably wasn’t a good idea when I FIRST started writing, as you can tell a lot of my early stuff suffers badly from ‘wandering writer’ syndrome. But over time I perfected it and got better and better at just following the story–and making it follow me, which was more important. You wouldn’t catch me writing no outline, no sir! I liked my freedom! I liked my open, creative flow. Down with plotting!

Then…something happened, and I can’t even tell you when or how. I started writing down notes, and then before you knew it, I started plotting out the whole story beforehand. Something I swore I’d never do. I always thought working like that would stifle my creativity, but instead it gave me a framework to play on, and most importantly, it helped me keep the story on the right path as I navigated from beginning to end. I knew what I was aiming toward and that actually HELPED my creativity. When I knew what was coming, I could plant the seeds of it way beforehand, which made the story richer.

Now, I’m definitely not a super-ridgid, detailed outliner type. My ‘outlines’ tend to be one to one and a half pages of general plotting from the start to finish. There’s still a lot of gaps and places to fill stuff in. I don’t and probably can’t plot out detailed scenes ahead of time, but I can make a summary of the story, kind of like a synopsis, and that gives me something to work with. Still, for this old pantser, that’s quite a leap into different territory!

Do you think you can teach an old writer new tricks? Have you ever changed something about your writing style? And are you plotter or panster? Could you be the opposite?

Author: Megan Morgan

Paranormal and contemporary romance author.

27 thoughts

  1. I am probably by most standards a plotter, but I never bind myself to it. I believe in always remembering that while the story may feel real to me, I can always change it, and no one else will ever know.
    I often find it easier to be creative when I’m reacting to something. The blank page can be very intimidating, but if I “know” that having a character run from the dance floor out of anxiety and intimidation didn’t work, then maybe it’s time to pull the character into the throng, in spite of their apprehension.
    In many ways I tend to think that whether it’s written down or in the mind, everyone has a “story in mind” that starts the process, and I think the key is not allowing “that story” to loom overly large, to not let “it” get in the way of the story that’s taking shape on the page.
    Sometimes I just start writing a rough draft, and then I go back and outline using that as a foundation, other times I start with an outline, but still end up veering off course.
    At the end of the day, whether intentionally or blindly, all that matters (I think) is finding a path to the story that we are trying to write, and a willingness to embrace whatever works “this time”, and remain open to possibilities “next time”, whether they be tried and true techniques, or something new.


  2. I’m usually a pantser. I tried plotting my last project, but I got bored of my own ideas and struggled to continue writing! The mini series I wrote on my blog was pantsed, and I think it turned out okay in that I had more enthusiasm. Although if I re-drafted it I’d probably put the MC’s through less drama and tighten the plot up ๐Ÿ™‚


  3. I tell my story first, think short synopsis more than outline, before I begin the heavy lifting. I do this because it finds plot holes, dead ends and allows me a place to insert clues. It also shows whether the tension is building. Mysteries can be difficult and without a plan or repetitive rewrites near impossible. So do I outline. Yes, but only the basic bones of the work.

    Sorry I’m late.

    Anna from elements of emaginette


  4. I believe writing means a lifetime of learning and YES you can teach an old writer new tricks. I never used to online. Then I read Take Off Your Pants!: Outline Your Books for Faster, Better Writing. It was a totally engaging way to outline and worked for me on my latest WIP. Somehow it made my imagination spark.


  5. I mix it up. I like to have a rough outline, something I can reference, but I don’t like a complete outline. Most of my ideas come as I type, and a rigid outline tends to stall me. Thanks for your great post!


  6. I plotted my first book, and that was so easy to write, and has no major holes so revision is easy. I pantsed my second book, and it has more holes than Swiss cheese. Book #3 will definitely be plotted!


  7. I’ve learned the hard way, I need some sort of road map to work off of. It’s usually pretty loose, but it’s there. Otherwise I waste so much time re-writing later to work myself out of holes I dropped into ๐Ÿ™‚


  8. I pantsed my first NaNoWriMo novel in 2015. I got to 50,000 words and even “finished” that draft, but it was a sloppy story that suffered from the “wandering writer” syndrome you mentioned. Second NaNoWriMo I plotted extensively; that novel had an historical aspect to it that I needed to do some research for, and there were some timeline things I needed to keep straight. Even though I got to 50,000 words and halfway through the story, I found that I really didn’t like having that much structure, and so the project has been on hiatus ever since. Right now, one of the novels I’m slowly but surely working on is an expansion of a short story, and this one has been the most satisfying to write so far. The short story is giving me a very loose outline (I know what major plot points I want to hit and in what order), but I can also feel like I’m wandering and exploring a little more as I expand the sections that I glossed over in the short story. It’s a bit slower to complete a draft, but so far I’m really satisfied with the work. ๐Ÿ™‚


    1. It sounds like you did a bit of experimenting and found what was right for you. I definitely like the loose outline, as it gives me a lot more wiggle room. Too much planning tends to stifle me, the way you described.

      Thanks for stopping by!


  9. I have a loose outline, a vague idea of where I should be going, and then I allow the story to take me where it needs to go. Of course, this means lots of time editing later to make sure all the foreshadowing and stuff is in place. Right now I’m trying something new: I’m using ML Keller’s new book “Your Novel, This Month” to help me write a daunting novel without needing too much rewrites later. We’ll see if this speeds up the process ๐Ÿ™‚

    Ronel visiting on Author Toolbox blog hop day: eBooks — The Future or a Mistake?


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