Outlining Revisited

Girl-writing-brightSo I mentioned before that I’ve been attempting a whole new process of outlining stories as I write them. Yep. I, Merry Farmer, have been consciously changing myself into a plotter. Or at least giving it a try. I’ve been using Patti Larsen’s method of outlining to see if it can help me to write quickly and more efficiently. Well, I’ve finished the first draft of the first book I’ve completed using her method, and here are my thoughts.

When I started the process, I was skeptical. Way back in the day, I considered myself a pantser. I liked to discover my stories as they went along, writing each chapter like it was the next episode in a tv series that I was eagerly following. The other pantsers out there can appreciate this, I’m sure. Then I started thinking a little bit into the future with my stories. I would know what the endpoint was before I started and a few mile markers along the way. In between writing, I would spend a lot of time writing notes that I used as a sort of compass to figure out where I’d been and where I was going. Once I started writing like that, I called myself a ‘plantser’, because I was both plotting and pantsing.

So there I was, diving into Patti’s outlining methods. I liked the first couple of lessons okay, but I kept a skeptical distance. The worksheet was helpful for me to figure out those major points in the story that I had already incorporated into my plantsing methods. So far so good, but I wasn’t sold. Then came a lot of work. And yes, I balked. That voice in my brain kept insisting that these steps I was taking weren’t a natural part of my writing process, that trying something new was slow going. The thing is, a lot of what I was doing WAS part of my process as it has developed, it was just that Patti’s method organized things.

There were a few points in those difficult middle lessons when my writer brain’s lightbulb went off and I thought “Hey! This is a good idea!” But interspersed with those moments was harsh resistance and good old fashioned stubbornness. I don’t like to try new things. I was incredibly skeptical about the cards…especially how many of them I ended up with.

And then the magic happened. I went from the card state to the writing the outline itself stage, and suddenly an entire book flowed out from all of the tedious, hard work I’d done. That’s when I began to suspect that I might become a believer. I cracked my knuckles, wiggled my fingers over the keyboard, and then dove into the actual writing of the first draft.

488px-Adolf_Eberle_Der_gelunge_BriefMagic, my friends. MAGIC. Previously, it would take me about a month to six weeks to write a first draft. Some of my books involved me changing my mind about the plot halfway through, then needing to rewrite the first half of the book. Using Patti’s method, it took me less than three weeks to finish a 70k word first draft. And I suspect that I will spend less time revising and reworking it because I already smoothed out a lot of plot bumps in the planning process.

Sure, there are some things about my original outline that I ended up changing for one reason or another, but very few compared to the changes I would go through using my old method. I have a couple of inconsistencies to iron out that I hadn’t planned for in the beginning, but I have a lot of time left to do that before publication. In short, by outlining the book in its entirety before I started, I made the actual work of writing much easier.

I think I’m sold on this whole outlining thing. I still need to try the method on a few more books, maybe alter it a little to fit my brain and my working style, but my conclusion is that if your aim is to write faster so that you can get all of the ideas stuck in your head out before you turn 100, this is the way to do it. For me, this has revolutionized the way I write.

I’m not sure that this method or any method of outlining would work for everybody. Different brains work differently and all writers have different processes that work for them. One reason why I think this is such a good fit for me is because I already have a billion story ideas whirling around in my head and I need some way to get them out as quickly as possible. If you’re the type who has a few cherished stories that you want to love and nurture into the world in good time, this might not be the thing for you. I love it.

Have you tried any methods of outlining that work for you? If you’re a pantser, what is it about pantsing that appeals to you?


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3 thoughts on “Outlining Revisited

  1. Thanks, Merry, this is really interesting. I’m open to trying this. Much like you I’m a planster (LOVE THAT!). But I find that (at least in the past) if I do a detailed outline, by the time I’m done, my goofy brain feels like it’s already told the story and I lose my enthusiasm for the piece. Did you find that your verve for the work was impacted in this way at all during the cards process, or did it just make you more excited to get to the actual writing?

    • For me, Nan, I haven’t felt like the spark has gone out because I’ve outlined. I sort of feel like making the outline is a deep part of the process of creating the story itself, and writing that first draft is more of an extension of the writing process than a rehashing of a story I’ve already told. Does that make sense?

      • Understood. I’m going to give this the old “Illini” try. My last revision was a nightmare because I pantsted (can that be a verb now?) too much. And I definitely would like to improve my speed – especially since the Evil Day Job sucks up a lot of time during which I’d rather be writing. 🙂 Thanks for sharing this, Merry!

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