How To Outline By the Seat of Your Pants

A Writer's Path

by Stephanie O’Brien

When you start to create a novel, one of the first questions you have to ask yourself is, “Should I start by creating an outline, or just fly by the seat of my pants?”

Both of these options have their merits.As I noted in a previous blog post, creating an outline first helps to keep the plot more coherent, avoid plot holes, and stop writer’s block before it starts.

But many writers probably share the same fear I had before I started to embrace outlining: what if the outline stifles my creativity? What if I lose the spontaneity that I need to write the characters naturally, and to let the characters be themselves?

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It’s NaNoWriMo Time… Again


NaNoWriMo Banner


Are you planning, plotting, and strategizing for NaNoWriMo? No, not for November… for July, NaNoWriMo’s second yearly camp.

Yes, I know we’re only two months out from the last camp in April. I participated in that one too. I’ve just completed my book Bible setup for July,  and I have a project on the boards for November.

Do you see a pattern here?

My mister insists I’m addicted to NaNoWriMo. While we don’t generally agree on anything—because that’s how marriage works—he might be on to something. Although I don’t believe it’s NaNo itself which draws me in. There are plenty of writing challenges, write-ins, and contests monthly to take part in. But, I have yet to find one which offers the structure, discipline, and challenge of NaNoWriMo.

Beginning with the premise of writing a fifty-thousand-word novel in thirty days, NaNoWriMo has become much more than a simple writing challenge. It fosters creativity, ingenuity, and confidence while crossing ethnic and gender lines and international borders. NaNoWriMo opens up the literary world for children allowing them to write unhindered by judgment. It shuns the perfection of writing in favor of the creation of unique stories.

NaNo does all this and more by trying to put… and keep the needed processes and people in place to support writers. Participants can also learn from each other as well. It was a NaNoWriMo buddy whose outlining process I copied and still use, and another who first told me about Scrivener and explained some of its features.

Everyone succeeds in an event which puts so much time and effort into their success, right?

Wrong.

With the exception of those who experience the unexpected (but ever-present) interruptions of LIFE, most participants who are not successful in completing the challenge had no structure; they didn’t think it through… there was no plan.

Pantsers everywhere scream out in horror.

As a reformed pantser, I cannot stress enough the benefit and necessity of some type of outline or planning for a NaNoWriMo project. Lack of planning is what caused my brain to seize up in 2013 and 2014… because obviously, I didn’t learn from my mistakes the first time.

With twenty days left until NaNoWriMo begins, there’s more than enough time to get a writing project together. The beauty… and fun of April and July NaNo camps is you determine the project and its parameters! A Novella of twenty-thousand words? Fifteen scenes for a screenplay? Twenty-five pages of research for an upcoming project? Camp NaNoWriMo is whatever you want it to be.

As an aside, the NaNoWriMo organization is currently fundraising to design a new site that will help people go further with their writing—with new and improved tools to support NaNoWriMo’s inspiration and community year-round.

That’s a win-win situation for writers! Donate today!