From Pantser to Planner: My Outlining Process

As I made the transition from school stress to writing stress, I decided that I was going to return to Camp NaNoWriMo this July. After my exams were done and I was moved out I realized that I would, inevitably, have to think about my current project: Roots (For those of you who know me and are familiar with the project this is the one that includes the line “His sculpted bronze arms were filled to the brim with crinkly chip bags and semi-squished pre-packaged deserts,” which I am both immensely embarrassed of and immensely proud of). The project, as of now, has gone through a number of changes from a Christmas writing club party prompt, to “only a short story,” to a possible project, back and forth between first and third person, then to an outline, to a partial draft, to a second partial draft, to a second outline, to a third draft which is still not finished, to a possible third outline to better fit the third draft. Basically, the “Roots” folder on my desktop is slowly filling. But as I approach July I’m realizing that my outline needs more work and that I’m not sure how exactly to do that.

Back when I started writing, and arguably even more now, I wrote without an outline. It took me about a year to finish my first project (a book whose name must not be uttered, and does, unfortunately, exist in paperback on Amazon) (I wrote crime fiction in those days), and in the end it was never what I wanted. The pacing was always too fast, I ran out of things to say halfway through, and it was often a pain to write.

It was after my first three full drafts that I decided should try this outlining stuff. If you’ve ever seen my laptop bag there’s a black notebook in there, which was my first dedicated writing notebook. Inside of that notebook is my entire outline for Roots. This is how I went about it:

What I find when I search up outlining is a lot of unnecessary shit. The idea of other people’s outlining systems is to figure out every detail of the story before you even touch a pen to the page. Figure out the plot, antagonists (and their whole life story), main characters (and their whole life story), point of view, motives, subplots, and et cetera. Where this breaks down for me is that when I approach outlining systems, I get to the point where I start to think “This is stupid, I’m basically writing the book now, why don’t I just write the book?” And in a way that makes sense, right? Why write the book twice if I can just write it once?

What I used to do is just start a scene and see where it takes me, it would take weeks to finish the scene because often I didn’t know what to write until I sat down and thought without the keyboard in my hands. Whenever I went to bed, to shower, to classes, I was thinking about what would happen and writing it all out in my head, which led to the same problem: If I was already writing it in my head then it would never be as good when it came out on the page because none of my head ideas made any sense. What was the point of writing it if it would never be any good?

And there was the trap. I couldn’t plan too much or I’d give up and I couldn’t not plan because it never got to the page. I needed a sweet spot. I needed to plan it out and know where I was going and if that made sense, and I had to write it down to do that, and I couldn’t use a system because it’s too overwhelming. So I started outlining. I started with what I knew about the plot. I knew that there would be two nymph siblings and a human girl traveling across the country and eventually landing in a mountain where the guy nymph dies, so I spent thought out those and jotted down the important stuff. I knew that there was more magical species, so I brainstormed those and highlighted my favorites to use in key plot points. I knew I needed several kingdoms so I jotted down the types of areas I wanted my characters to go through and split that up into sections and created a history. Basically what I did was ask myself what I wanted in the plot and what I needed to make and focused myself to think about those things instead of figuring it out as I approached the scenes I needed them for.

Then all I had to do was figure out the plot. The first time I did this I plotted like I use to write. I sat down with a notebook and went straight through until I hit the scenes I knew I wanted and I’d done everything I had to to get there. I jotted down quotes characters would say or scenes I had to describe as they came up. That way the pacing went slower because I wasn’t rushing through the boring scenes because I didn’t know what to do with them, and I knew exactly where those important scenes were. Then I went through it a couple times and crossed out the bad/ nonsense scenes and made sure my main characters were in every scene or addressed where they were instead. Then I started writing.

Obviously it’s not perfect, I’ve had to adjust some things (because I use Scrivner and it’s easier to have it on screen than on a notebook in my (horrible) handwriting, and in typing it up I changed some ideas), but it’s helped me, and that’s what matters. Find a way of outlining that helps you write.

Bringing Back WooWriMo

Hey Ya’ll, (Dang I really need an I really need an intro for these posts… Let’s see what do I gots in the storage bin…  “Hellllloooo Everybody my name is Hopikat”… no… “My sculpted bronze arms were filled to the brim with crinkly intro-bags and semi-squished pre-packaged descriptions”…no… “I’m the llama overlord…” IDK…), anyway, I want to bring back WooWriMo this year. So I am. Period. I’m doing that. I’m not, however, going to be starting it up in November because I don’t have a death wish. I’ll be doing Camp NaNoWriMo this summer in July.

I’ll be posting on here regularly during that time so follow along if you want to hear about writer’s block. Also, take the leap yourself this summer if you have the time. You can set your own goal, and change it if you need too, and I’ll be here to vent to if you want. Find me at my Camp NaNoWriMo account (llama-overlord) and go for it. One month no looking back! I’ll be planning the month before so if you have any tips please comment below, and have a great start to summer!


Are Your Hands Wet?