Ditch Your Outline

I started working on my novel again yesterday after a two week hiatus. It took me two whole weeks to figure out what was holding me back.

I didn’t want to write what I had planned in my outline.

The next section was supposed to be a little different than the previous chapters. I was going to have each main character tell their backstory in first person. Every time I would even think about writing this section my brain would just “nope” out on me. I couldn’t even formulate the first sentence.

It was a boring idea. Another writer might be able to do it, but I can’t.

The day I gave myself permission to ditch my outline and write the next chapter how I wanted, the words started flowing again. I was at work when inspiration hit, so I typed away on my phone during my breaks.

I initially decided to do the first person backstory chapters when I was writing my outline, because I was afraid I didn’t have enough content for a full length novel. So the idea didn’t start with great intentions anyway, the chapters were filler from the start.

If you are familiar with writing jargon, you know what the terms plotter and pantser mean. If you’re not, here’s a quick run down.

Plotter: Someone who outlines and plans before writing.

Pantser: Someone who just writes and lets the plot work itself out.

If I had to guess I would say most writers use a mix of both methods, as I do.

I have a 4,200 (approximately) word outline for my novel. Here’s the timeline of how I’ve written and used it.

  1. Had the idea for my book and wrote the first chapter – no outline.
  2. Wrote the first third of the outline.
  3. Wrote a couple more chapters.
  4. Wrote the rest of the outline.

The story has followed the outline loosely; I’ve changed a lot of specifics. It’s been very helpful to have, though. Personally, I get too overwhelmed to write more than a couple of chapters at a time without some kind of direction.

This post is titled “Ditch Your Outline” not because you shouldn’t have an outline, but because you need to be aware of when your outline isn’t serving you. Don’t be like me. Don’t let a boring idea that you feel you “have” to include keep you from writing.