Outlining vs... not doing that

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Welcome to pantsing vs. plotting: FIGHT TO THE DEATH.

I'm kidding. Basically, this is the part where I tell you why I hate outlines and give you permission not to use them, if you don't want to.

Now, if you DO like outlining or want to outline your books, I am the last and worst person you should take advice from. This is where I will point you to other resources, including but not limited to the Blake Snyder Beat Sheet, which you can use to outline your story, should you choose.

Of course many writers like outlining, because it is a roadmap for your story. You can plan everything out ahead of time, ensuring you're hitting all the key story beats, keeping your pacing on track. I fully support and admire people who like and are good at outlining. Alas, I have never been that person. Even as a goody two shoes of a straight A student in high school, I would procrastinate and half-ass when my English teachers would make me outline papers. I loathed doing it, and it wasn't until I started writing novels that I understood why, and gave myself permission to break away from the chains of outlining/plotting.

For me, outlining and/or too much planning ahead of time, kills all of my joy and excitement to write the story. Writing is in large part a process of discovery. I enjoy writing knowing only a few things, and figuring things out as I go. This came as a huge shock to me when I actually sat down to be a Serious Writer Of Novels, as I am a planner in all other aspects of my life. I love spreadsheets, and schedules, and am always early. But my creative process demands freedom. It wasn't until I threw out the notion that I had to outline my novels beforehand that I was able to successfully complete one. Embracing this style of writing changed my life.

The most reductive and general terms you will hear for these two schools of thought are PLOTTING vs. PANTSING. There's a lot of nuance and variations between these two extremes, but they are regardless a good summation of the major styles.

PLOTTERS plan everything ahead of time. They outline. And when they draft, they stick to their plans.

PANTSERS, literally, "fly by the seat of their pants." It sounds terrifying, and it can be, but it's also a lot of fun, and a 100% valid way to draft novels. It also doesn't HAVE to be out-of-control, aimless, or lead to hot mess drafts, as a rule.

Now pantser don't literally make everything up as they go along. Some might, but most of us have a vague sense of direction in mind. I always start with a worldbuild, main characters, primary conflict and stakes. I have a few key scenes strongly in mind, usually relating to the inciting incident, the "fun & games" and the midpoint turn/climax. It's everything between that I have no clue about.

Many authors settle on the inbetween term "plotser." Others call this "headlights writing"--you always know what's going to happen one scene or one chapter ahead (I do this, as well).

George R.R. Martin has a good set of terms that I think can clarify things for pansters in particular. He compares the two types as Architects and Gardeners. Architects (plotters) plan the structure of the "building" ahead of time and then follow their blueprints. Gardeners (pantsers) "plant the seeds" of the story and then things grow as they write. For me, the "seeds" are my essential starting pieces: world, characters, conflict, stakes, big scenes. Sometimes I know the ending, sometimes I don't.

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