For all intents and purposes–leaving my upcoming, first attempt at NaNoWriMo behind–I write without an outline. As people might say, I’m a “pantser.” I’m a big believer that there’s no right or wrong way to write a novel. Outlines aren’t good or bad, as I’ve touched on before (see To Outline or Not to Outline: FLEXIBILITY’s the Key). It all depends on what works for you. What’s your style? Here are some things you can expect if you fly the seat of your pants:
- YOU’LL HIT SOME BLOCKS. Rather than confronting those panic-inducing, “I’m not sure where to take this” moments at the outline phase, if you write without an outline you’ll hit them during first-draft composition. Don’t worry, you can work through them with a little thought–see The Question that Breaks my Writer’s Block–but don’t think you can avoid them. In my case, just knowing I’ll confront some blocks and remembering how I’ve broken through before–this helps calm me down to tackle the problem efficiently. Give yourself some time, take it easy, and you’ll be fine. If the idea of hitting a block after you’ve written some 40,000 or 70,000 words is very distressing to you, an outline might be a better route. I have to admit it creates some added stress, hitting that block after having invested so much already in a manuscript.
- YOU WILL BE WONDERFULLY, BEAUTIFULLY SURPRISED. I love the thrill of discovering who my characters are so much that I’ve written four novels without outlines. It’s just…. It’s indescribable. That moment when you realize your protagonist has something inside her you never saw developing, and you see in a flash where that something will take your story, and you understand it’s SOOO much better and bigger and more exciting than what you been envisioning up to that point…. That moment is why I write.
- YOU’LL SHUFFLE A LOT OF SCENES AROUND. Once your first draft is completed, you’ll probably end up moving where certain scenes take place in the grand scheme of your novel. No biggie! That’s a good thing, and something you should always consider doing whether you use an outline or not.
- YOU’LL END UP ADDING, REWRITING, AND DELETING WHOLE SCENES AFTER YOUR FIRST DRAFT. I have to think these kinds of edits–not just polishing a draft but really reshaping it–are more common when you don’t have an outline to guide you through your initial composition, though I could be wrong. (Do you use outlines? Please let me know what your experience is with this.) I’ve never had a problem with these kind of edits in theory, and I’ve dealt with them in practice on multiple occasions, though I should admit there are times I feel really panicky looking at my notes after a read-through. When I realize how much of an overhaul I have to give my work…. It’s daunting. There are aspects of the final resolution of my plot, for instance, that I didn’t know would happen until I wrote them at the end. So I have to go back and edit in sufficient preparation for the unexpected developments. As annoying as this can be, remember you’ll be making edits whether or not you use an outline. That’s how I look at it.