As the title suggests, outlining is, indeed, not for everyone. As a once self-proclaimed pantser, I can attest to this fact. Over the course of my time writing, I've learned what works for me and what hasn't. The one thing for sure is that I can't write with an outline. I see people who are ride or die by their outlines, but I can't be that kind of writer. I've tried! Because it doesn't work for me, once I have my outline done, I feel as if I've written my story. The excitement has passed and I have no passion to finish the story. So, here's what works for me as I'm someone who has to have a binder/notebook full of my ideas.
Just because an outline doesn't work, doesn't mean a summary won't
I can't outline, but I have written several summaries for stories so I have a general idea of where my story is going. I can't go into a story blind like I once did. In the past, I could come up with a story on the spot and just bang it out. It's also when I was first starting out with writing and I didn't know how things really worked. As I grew into being a writer, I realized I had to have something. But I wasn't a ride or die outliner.
I think I detest outlines because it's sort of saying that a specific bullet points means that that stuff has to happen in bullet point thirteen. I'm not about that. I like to write until my chapters come to either a cliffhanger or a nice resting spot. It depends on my mood, I guess. But the point is, I have a summary as sort of a road map to what happens. As long as I hit the main beats, that works for me. I enjoy writing the story. But having a detailed outline (like the ones I was forced to write for speeches and research papers) doesn't work for me. My brain has never worked that way. And that's totally part of the creative process.
If you're a pantser and your story isn't working, some notes may help unblock that path you're on
Pictured in the (blurry) picture above is a photo from this past summer when I was working on A Lie Guarded. I was having so many issues working out the story. Before this book, I was a ride or die pantser. But this story needed some major work. I needed some sort of way to ensure that it would be the best book it could be and it was because I'd written three different openings and none of them were working. So I needed to revise my approach for this book in order to tackle this story. I knew who I wanted my main character to be and what she was doing in the setting, but I didn't know how the story would unfold with her there. So, I had to take multiple different approaches.
I started by doing a background, but something was staying hidden as I was writing which I thought was super weird. My characters usually come to me with zero problems. I have always had an easy time getting to know them, but Eralys was one I had to pull teeth with (and she's still a little bit like that). So, I had to regroup and research methods of planning. And that's when I went to something I haven't done since middle school. The bubble method.
The bubble method probably saved my book! I wrote Eralys' name and circled it. Then, I started writing things I knew about her in offshoots of her name. Out of nowhere, ideas began coming to me about her past and who she was and who she would be. It was like a light had opened up in my brain and I couldn't get over it. I had uncovered this whole dark past about her that I didn't even know. She seemed pretty cut and dry at first, but that brainstorming session changed my entire story. And then I began writing the summary.
But it all depends on your creative process...and even that changes
The Creative Process isn't an exact science because it differs from person-to-person. I have some friends who have eighty page outlines, and then I have some friends who have a post-it note with one sentence. Your process is your process, no matter what it is. I can't tell you how to write your book, but I'm here to help you overcome your challenges. I want every writer out there to succeed and sometimes it depends on your process. When you're as stuck as I once was, I wished I had someone to tell me that it's okay to try out new things. From this experience, I looked into outlining a little bit more. I read Save the Cat! Writes a Novel and loved it! It gave me so many new ways/ideas to apply to my writing. I'm by no means an intense plotter, but as I'm writing, I do tend to be more aware of the beats I'm hitting to make the story "good."
In terms of physically writing, I don't refer to an outline. I have a pretty good memory of keeping that stuff in order. And to be honest, I remember the main plot points I have to hit. Sometimes I do dive into the summary, but most times I refer back to the previous chapters to see where I want to take the story next (because it's probably a first draft). I love the unknown and I love not knowing what a character is going to exactly be like until I start writing them and finding their voice. This one character ended up saying all this wise stuff and I didn't know that about him until I began writing him. And I love that.
The point is, don't feel pressured to outline. An outline might be vital for one project, but might not be necessary for the next. If you're writing a Fantasy, yes, you probably should have an outline or some general idea of notes. But if it's a fluffy contemporary, you might be able to get away without one. But that is up to you, the writer!
Until next time,