I used to be a Pantser… a writer who writes by the seat of their pants without an outline. I was arrogantly proud of not using outlines and “just letting the words flow.”
Next, there are Plotters and they write with an outline that’s usually prepared before they start writing the book, but can also be altered during writing.
Outline? What’s an Outline?
I have been working (periodically) on In the Bushes (working title) for five years now. I worked on it during NaNoWriMo three years ago and won because I wrote 50,000 words that November. However, the last two NaNos were a bust for me because there was so much blurred, unorganized writing all I could do was skim what I had written and then try to find a place to pick up where I might have left off. It was impossible to move forward and I quit NaNo within the first week both years.
After last year’s failure, I thought I should read up on outlines. Maybe I could use a teensy bit of organization? So I started reading.
I just looked in my Audible library and have read fifteen books specifically about outlines or have sections on outlines in them. In just the last year.
Of course several of the books countered each other. Most said their way was The Best. Some were okay, but others I tossed aside as useless.
The two books that resonated most with me were Save the Cat! Writes a Novel and How to Write a Novel Using the Snowflake Method. I’m not going to explain either of them, just know they teach different ways of doing an outline and I combined them.
Becoming a Plantser
I’ve since become a Plantser… a person who does a combination of both Pantsing and Plotting. Starting in June, about four months before Preptober, which is the month before NaNoWriMo in November, I began arranging my outline in Scrivener. I’ve written a lot of words in this WIP, but it needed arranging in some sort of order.
I started with years: 1978, 1982, and 1988, the three most prominent years in the book. Then I moved to locations: Orlando, New York City, Washington, D.C., and Orlando again. These I could move around as needed, but had specific parts to the story. I could move the cities to their proper years when I knew where they would go. I arranged the characters I had into the years I knew they would be in and for those whose years were still unknown, they went into their own folders.
When I was done moving people and folders around as if I were playing Backgammon, I made sure the title of the folder aligned with what was inside. Here’s a fun one: “DC ScabiesIwoJima.” In Scrivener, there’s a place for notes on the side and I write clearer notes about what my folder has inside. I’ll leave this one up to your imagination.
Lastly, I wrote “NNWM“ next to the folders I wanted/needed to work on this NaNoWriMo. So the folder I mentioned above says: “NNWM DC ScabiesIwoJima.”
I rarely worked in chronological order when I was Pantsing. Now, however, I am going down the list, starting at 1978 and moving down, filling in what is next. And next. And next again.
Where is the Pantsing Part?
Sure, I’m doing a good deal of Plotting, but I do not have the amount of detail either the books or people have said I should have.
I do not write back stories for my characters. I don’t write what the motivations of the neighbor might be. I don’t go into the minutiae many books suggest. I am more loose with those aspects.
This is my first NaNoWriMo with any kind of an outline and the difference is amazing.
I am so organized. That is not a sentence either my mind or mouth has uttered much in my life.
The writing is flowing each day with complete ease and joy. I do not dread the page. I am not crying with frustration confused about where to start. When I start the next morning, I merely read the last sentence and move forward. I am not spending hours re-reading and editing what I had been writing for months and, quite sadly, years.
It’s stunning how easy NaNo is this year. As of today, with ten more days left to get to 50,000 words, I have 35 thousand plus words. If I continue as I have been, I will get there a couple of days early.
The novel will not be finished. Not remotely so. I will have to re-write so much because I am seeing where I went wrong in other parts. I can see through the muck easier now that things are neater. They are not perfect, mind you. Just neater.
Scaling the Scaffolding
I see the outline more as scaffolding… people call it that a lot, apparently. I was writing a couple of days ago and a new character I had not anticipated walked in on a beam I did not see I had lain down for her. She wandered in easily, walked on that skyscraper’s beam as if she were walking in the garden grass, introduced herself to me and made herself a space in my book. I wondered where she would have gone had I not had the scaffolding up at all. Would I have found her? Seen her at all?
What’s Perfect for YOU?
I would never presume to tell a Pantser to learn to outline. Each person finds their own paths to writing. I am trying not to be cranky with my Self about that stubbornness all those years when I “should” have at least tried another way when I found myself flailing for so long.
And I will give a little shoutout to hypomania for the ability to focus more. Here’s to mental illness!