Pearls of (Almost) WisdomThoughts On Writing

Nobody Told Me I Could Die Of Outlining

Look at this picture, Grasshoppers.


Yes. It is a picture of pants. Very cute green pants. But more specifically, it is a picture of what I like to FLY BY THE SEAT OF when I write.

However, a tragedy has befallen my pants, and I fear that my days of flying by the seat of them may have come to an end.

It is the end of an era.

A four-and-a-half-year era.

Since August 1, 2008–the day I first began to write The Clearing (which then became Shadows)–I’ve been a PANTSER.

This is good advice in most areas of life.

Now, I realize many people outside the Writer Bubble may not know what a pantser is. Basically it’s a writer whose imagination is so wildly out of control that they are incapable of outlining before writing. So while a pantser does very little work on the FRONT side of the novel and may seem to complete a first draft in no time at all, the truth of the matter is once the first draft is done, they may very well DIE before they finish revisions.

This happened to me with The Clearing / Shadows. I think I may have done 20-25 rounds of revisions on that manuscript, one of which included a MASSIVE cut (20,000 words) and a complete reconfiguration of the ending.

It happened again with Synthesis, which is the Manuscript We Shall Not Speak Of Nor Bring To The Light Of Day.

And it happened again with Pull; I don’t know how many different endings I went through before finally landing on the version that found a home with Agent Emma. No, my revisions weren’t as drastic as The Clearing, but they were still labor-intensive enough to almost make me a crazy(er) person.


Oh, yes. It is happening to me AGAIN.

Creepy Faces is one of my favorite stories EVER and yet I also hate it to the very core of its being because: 1) I did not take the time to plan out all the details before I started writing; 2) it is MUY COMPLICADO, and to think I could “figure it out” as I wrote it was the arrogantest of arrogant things to think.



Thanks to a phone call with Agent Emma in which she was able to verbalize some of the concerns I’d felt deep in my Soul Region, I’ve got a much better idea of how to ground the story and keep it from turning into a story monster that grows new plot arms every time you turn around.

But it means something rather frightening. (More frightening than a story monster with spontaneously generating plot arms.)

Yes, I have to cut things. Yes, I’ll have to do A LOT more writing. But the thing that scares me the most is that I have to OUTLINE THE ENTIRE STORY.

Squirrel with a big appetite
I know, Squirrel. It makes me stress eat, too.

Because if I don’t outline, do you know what will happen? DO YOU?

I’ll get lost again. I’ll forget what happened in the first half of the book, and I’ll come up with an ending that completely contradicts something important, and I’ll have to scrap it all and do it again. And again. AND AGAIN.

So what I’m saying, Grasshoppers, is I think I’m transforming into a plotter. I’ve even begun work on a second outline for an NA contemporary that hasn’t been written yet. Not a word.

(Okay, that’s a lie, I think I have a paragraph somewhere. But I wrote that paragraph BEFORE my metamorphosis from pantser to plotter began.)

I know what some people say about plotting: it’s boring, it takes all the fun out of it, you feel like you’re at work. I get how that could be true.

But if it keeps me from running around with my hair on fire after Revision #34 in which I have deleted three characters and then realize I want one of them back but then they don’t fit in with the ending and that middle section is kind of slow and do I even need that one part with the mutant snails?

If it keeps THAT from happening, then maybe, JUST MAYBE, it’s worth it. Although I make no guarantees, because I’m still convinced I may die of outlining. It’s such a tease, you know? Thinking of the story all the time but not actually writing it. GUH.

What do you think? Are you a pantser or a plotter, and why?

3 thoughts on “Nobody Told Me I Could Die Of Outlining

  1. I used to be a pantser. But after all the drafts I’ve gone through of the MS I’m about to query, I decided to plot my next WIP. That being said, I didn’t plot it in tremendous detail – I outlined Point A and Point Z and all of the major plot points that need to happen in between. So I have enough to keep me on track, but not so much that I feel like I already wrote the book.

    1. I think that’s an excellent method. I’m going to try something similar with this NA contemporary, but the Creepy Faces one has to be done in detail because it’s already written. Guh.

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