Mar 28, 2011

Are You a Careful Outliner or Seat-of-the-Pants Writer?

by Kristin Baker Przybyla

Sorry about my lateness in posting. I'm in Boise for the week at my mom's, celebrating my little one Anya's fifth birthday. Lucky Anya has had two days of "happy birthdays" because I somehow got ahead of myself and most of the day I thought yesterday was her birthday--then I logged on to my laptop and discovered it was only the 27th, and today's the big day!

If I'd planned better, I wouldn't have been so mistaken (not that Anya minds). For the longest time I'd thought I was the type who could come up with a vague plot and some characters, and flesh out a story just by typing the first paragraph. Wrong. I can't even get through the day without a detailed list of my tasks and chores. I'd started and tossed out dozens of stories and novel attempts because I had no idea where I was going. This was fine at the time, because it gave me great writing practice and I learned a lot about my strengths and weaknesses. But I constantly bemoaned the fact that I had characters, the basics of their world, and a semi-workable plot, but still no novel.

Then, a few years ago, my husband gave me a laptop for Christmas and told me to quit griping and just write the book already. I figured I'd better get serious and actually come up with a working plot. Maybe some decent planning would be in order? I had no idea how to plan an entire novel. After a Google search (on my new laptop!), I had a few sites to peruse on the subject. The one that helped me outline my plot, give my characters personality, plan my chapters with real direction, and organize a solid timeline, was Randy Ingermanson's Snowflake Method. The Obsessive-Compulsive planner in me was thrilled! In under two weeks I had a document which plotted out all the chapters in my book, and within two years I had the first draft of The Moongate. I've used the same method to plan out the next two books I'm working on. I have graphs and timelines and character charts galore! I could wallpaper a room with all my outlines, and it's heaven.

Stephen King is a seat-of-the-pants writer, and obviously it works well for him. There's also a guy in my local writers' group who starts writing with only a vague idea of his characters and plot, and he writes great stories. I'm sure there are a few ANWA women who write effectively with minimal planning as well. But for me, the more rigid the planning, the better. I even write in linear fashion, beginning to end (I tried skipping ahead and writing the more exciting scenes, but that only meant I had to drastically rewrite them later). This doesn't mean that what I've planned had been outlined in stone. The Moongate went through countless changes as the story started to come to life. Ultimately I shaved off over 40,000 words (more like hacked off). But if it weren't for the outlining in the first place, I wouldn't have had any kind of WIP to edit.

I'd love to hear about your process. Do you outline like me to the last detail, or do you take a freer approach to writing?

Now I'm off to grab some birthday cake...


  1. I'm def a fly by the seat of my pants author but then I write non fiction for work. So in reality I already have the background, the slant, the angle. I'm pretty sure I couldn't do that with a novel. I'm scared to try ha.

  2. I have to plan out and outline, because with one exception everything I have written is nonfiction. I have ideas for a few novels...but like Terri I am too scared to try!

  3. Really liked your post. I think I am half and half and want to become 90% outline.

  4. Thanks, ladies. I'm really obsessive about having a detailed outline before I attempt the actual writing of the story. Having tried it both ways, I have huge respect for seat-of-the-pants writers. I know it's a tried-and-true method, because it really does work for those people whose minds run that way. I just can't say enough good things about the Snowflake Method though. If you have ideas for novels, don't be scared to try! I'm sure the Snowflake Method isn't for everyone, but before discovering it, I'd tried many other outlining methods and this one was the easiest and most effective by far. BTW, I'm not getting paid to promote it! ;) I just love it that much!


Thank you for visiting. Feel free to comment on our blogger's posts.*

*We do not allow commercial links, however. If that's not clear, we mean "don't spam us with a link to your totally unrelated-to-writing site." We delete those comments.