I have watched many youtube videos titled things such as ‘How to Become a Better Writer!’ or ‘Defeat Writer’s Block!’. While there are usually good tips in these videos, there is one that is often called the most important tip of them all: outline.
Outlining is figuring out your story in advance, such as all the characters and the plot, and every major event that happens in the story. This is all fine and good, but it’s not the single most important rule of all time.
I’m a pantser. What that means is that I go into writing a story with basically no idea where it is going to take me-I’m riding by the seat of my pants. I usually do have a glimmer of an idea of what I want the story to be about, but it never goes how I plan. I have tried to outline several times, but it simply doesn’t work for me.
Recently I started my second novel. My first one, no matter how much I love it, was a mess. It is taking a LOT of editing to get it to where I want it to be. So I determined that I would at least try to get a basic idea of how the plot was going to go and I would get to know my characters before starting my second novel. I spent a little while interviewing my characters to see what sort of people they were and I got the first third of the story plotted out before I allowed myself to start writing.
When I first started writing the novel, it was boring, but easy. I knew what needed to happen. I was getting a lot of words onto the page. Then things started to go wrong. My love interest for one of my characters became really annoying and was not the right fit for him. My villain reminded me too much of the villain from my first novel. My two main characters were bland or whiny. Everything was happening like I had planned, but nothing was going how I hoped.
I began to dread writing, but I didn’t want to give up. I liked the idea of the story. Unfortunately, the frustrating situation caused me to take the longest break from writing I’ve had in a while. I eventually couldn’t bring myself to continue the story. The characters leered at me every time I opened the document and I couldn’t see a future beyond what I had plotted out in the beginning. I was stuck and I couldn’t fight my way out because I didn’t care enough to.
Was this it? Was I done? Was one novel all I had in me?
I often get story ideas from characters. I get character ideas from random things in life. I was on Pinterest when I saw an outfit that was unique. It almost immediately inspired a character. As I drew her I started to wonder what world she lived in, and what role she played in that world. I wasn’t thinking too much about it though because I was still depressed by my last story attempt. Then I drew another character from her world and a very faint story idea slowly started to form. After looking at a couple vague prompts from Pinterest, I was starting to get excited. So I decided to try writing this weird, not-my-usual-genre story. No pressure. No outline. No idea where it was going to take me.
And just like that, I re-fell in love with writing.
Outlining is great for those who can come up with a whole storyline in the course of a month or so. It’s great for those who like to be in control of every detail. However, it’s horrible for those who feel confined by rules. It’s horrible for those who get their best ideas in the middle of writing-ideas that change the entire course of the story.
So my advice?
Go ahead and try outlining because it’s the most used and most successful form of story writing. However, don’t be discouraged if you find that it makes you frustrated and you don’t like it. There’s nothing wrong with that. There’s nothing wrong with figuring it out as you go along. Yes, it will mean a lot of editing because halfway through the story you’re going to come up with something huge that needs to then be introduced earlier on in the story. Perhaps even a whole new character. That’s ok. What’s important is that you enjoy writing. Don’t let it feel like a chore. Yes, it’s work, but it’s work that’s supposed to be fun!
It’s ok to be an outliner.
It’s ok to be a pantser.
Do what makes you enjoy the process of telling amazing stories.