To outline, or not to outline. THAT is the question.

Okay, so Shakespeare’s question really is a better query, but as I prepare to embark on my first real NaNoWriMo journey, I’m finding myself pondering this.

Now, I hate outlining. (Wait – one more time, but with feeling.) I hate outlining. Like, I completely and totally despise it. I get an idea in my head and I like to run with it. It never failed me in school when I was working on term papers and such. But after years of writing creatively, I’ve realized, well, maybe I ought to know how Main Character will get to the finish line, and I should probably have an idea of the obstacles he’ll encounter along the way.

Last week, I wrote out a (very) rough outline on index cards, then revisited them, rearranged them a bit, and added some detail to certain parts so my notes would make more sense once I got to that part. And then, after reading this great post, I realized, yes, I probably need to do more than just this rough outline. After all, there are lots of fun things I want to get to in my story (the ending, for example, is something I cannot wait to write!), but before I can do that, I need to write the rest of it.

And if I’m staring at the word count as I write, wondering how I can get it to magically move from 500 to 1750 (that’s my daily goal), it means I’m not having fun writing it.

And if I’m not having fun writing it, no one will have any fun reading it.

What do I realistically expect my outline to do for me? (I added “realistically” since I’m fully aware it won’t magically write my book.)

  1. Keep me on track. If I manage to go off on tangents when I’m talking, you can only imagine how bad it can be when I’m writing. My outline should keep me from talking about how Supporting Character restored his 1968 Mustang and remind me to move on.
  2. Minimize my thinking. I shouldn’t be thinking of how Main Character will get to Plot Point A. Thinking will just slow down my momentum and give me an excuse to check Twitter or read the news or something. My outline should have stuff like hows and whys established for me so I can focus on the fun stuff, like all the trepidation Main Character feels when Event X happens.
  3. Keep me excited about the story. Ideally, I’d like to look at the outline, find something I’m super-excited about putting down on paper (or on the computer screen), and let my fingers fly as I enter The Zone. So, yeah, the outline is kind of like a stack of Fast Passes into The Zone.
  4. Give me a place to jot down ideas when I fall off the track. I’m not always going to stay focused when I write. I’m aware of this. I can envision more than one occasion when I’m writing about something that I’ll want to add something totally random to the story. Maybe it belongs in the story. Maybe it belongs in the next one. My outline will let me know if it fits, and if it does, where to put it.

So, I’ve answered my own question. In just fewer than three days, endurance writing will take over my life. I’m really counting on my outline to see me through it.

Well, my outline and maybe some giant cups of coffee.



  1. jumpingfromcliffs

    I didn’t outline my first (and only so far…) novel and I loved the process of writing it so freely, although at times it was horrendous trying to fight my way out of plot corners. I’ve just started on an outline for the second and am equally loving the planning process, knowing that when it’s done I’ll be able to just focus on the part I really enjoy – writing it. So it’s kind of swings and roundabouts I think 🙂

    • E.M.

      I think my problem with everything I’ve written so far (excluding blog posts and report summaries for work) is that I often write myself into plot corners and then stall. So then I go back and edit and rewrite, and then I get stuck into a different corner. It’s like fighting my way out of a maze. But I figure since I won’t have much time in the 30 days to think, I’d might as well figure out the general path of the maze ahead of time and minimize those corners. Sure, I’ll probably still encounter them, but much like keeping your hand on the wall of a maze will eventually lead you out of it, so will my outline serve to guide me through the end of my story.

      (And I really do like the end of my story. LOL)

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