Okay, I’ll admit it. I hate to outline a book before I begin writing it. My normal process is that I’ll get a rough idea–usually, someone kills someone else, and an idea of a few of the characters–and as soon as it’s solidified enough in my brain, I’ll begin writing. Sometimes this works well; sometimes not so much.
But, I had something odd happen last year when I began working on Cora’s Song. I came up with the premise. I came up with the characters. I came up with a title–which was a first. And, I came up with an outline. This wasn’t just X happens in act 1, Y happens in act 2, and Z happens in act 3. I’m talking a full-out, point by point outline. It took me three days to write it–and I was newly pregnant at the time! When I finally typed the thing up this year, single-spaced, it went on for six pages. Yikes!
In the process of writing an outline and utilizing it, I’ve discovered a few things about not only myself, but the writing process. While having an outline has proven useful to me, my writing process has slowed. In the past, I’ve written first drafts in just a few months–usually under six months, rarely less than two. And while, yes, I did have a baby during the writing of this book, I worked on the first draft for a year and a half. I could blame the baby, but I know part of it’s been me. I was derelict in finishing the draft just because, well, I’ve got this outline! It’s sort of done… right?
I’ve learned that having an outline doesn’t mean a writer doesn’t get stuck, either. I had many times where I’d stare at my paper and go, “Gee, I know where I am, and I know where I need to go, but how on earth do I make that leap to get there?”
And, my outline has been fluid. Different forces were working on me (namely pregnancy hormones!) when I wrote the outline. When I finally transcribed it, I realized some things had changed in the story, adjusted for that, and even re-did the ending a bit.
In the past, my first draft always had loose ends that I had to go back and figure out how to tie them up later. While I’m going to have some things to do on this draft, it’ll mostly be checking for consistency and world-building descriptions. Truthfully, I think this draft will be ready for publication more quickly than the mystery novel I’ve been working on for about three years. That’s kind of scary!
What’s been nice about having an outline, in addition to everything I’ve said, is that I can see at a glance where I’ve been already and where I need to go. And, if I need to go looking for a detail, I can approximate where in the story it is, so it does save me some time (although this is still reliant on my own brain, so it’s no guarantee I’ll find it quickly!) For a non-organized person like myself, this is definitely proof that messy-types can learn to improve their organizational skills, at least minutely.
Now, the weighty part. I’m already beginning to contemplate what will be my next project after I wrap up Cora’s Song and Homebody. Will I outline that novel? While I’m not certain–I may fall into my old habits and just have at it–having this outline has definitely helped me. I can finally see the benefits of having an outline. I may not outline as drastically as I did in this project. But if I know where I’m going from start to finish, I think it’ll help keep me on task.
And, with a toddler running around the house, I need all the help I can get.
Until next time,
For more information on this topic, check out the following blogs:
Planning, Outlining, and Organizing Your Novel — Or Not!