Updated: May 4, 2022
Ever since I started writing, I have always just written what came to mind as I was writing. I could outline for school papers and organize my thoughts well enough to get a good grade on them, but creative writing is entirely different. How many stories have I written where I’ve actually sat down and tried to plot out the entire story? Well, two. Only one of which I have actually managed to finish writing in its entirety. The dozens of other stories I’ve written have come from me sitting down and going, “oh, this could be fun if I did this.”
One of the best comments I remember receiving was from a beta reader who was reading chapters as I wrote them, and they said, “I can’t wait to see what happens next!” and my immediate response was, “Me either!” The truth about my writing and my aversion to plotting is that I felt like plotting out a story took the magic away from it. I wanted to be surprised with where the story was going, and if I was surprised, I knew others would be. But, alas, when you have the goal of wanting to publish your story, you should probably try and avoid inconsistencies in your plot from the get-go.
So, now I ask: Are you a pantser or a plotter? I’m both. If there is a little story in my head that I want to get out, then I don’t care about plotting it out or anything. As I jokingly say, I write on “just vibes.” But, if I want something more substantial—something that will develop into multiple chapters with a premise I believe could one day grace the shelves of a bookstore—I plot it.
Recently, I was lucky enough to experience James Patterson’s MasterClass class on writing, and I learned a lot. First, he recommended just sitting down and writing out all of the various plot ideas you have. It could be anything that comes to mind that you might conceivably want in your story, then when you’re done, you organize them. After they’re organized, that’s when you go back and add some more detail to them. Then you add more and more until you have your first draft of an outline. I did this. I wrote out bullet points, expanded on them, developed them, and organized them into chapters. By the end, I had written about 4,000 words of outline with his quote in mind: “You should be able to sell your outline to a publisher if it’s done correctly.”
Now, that being said, is my outline the best? No. Does it have everything that I want to happen in the story? No. But am I proud of what I did and how it came out? Absolutely. I’ve started writing this story, but I haven’t had a chance to get very far with it since I’ve been swamped. However, I can honestly say that I am proud to have outlined. While I think there will still be some things I write in the heat of the moment while I’m in the middle of developing the story, I will be in a better position than I otherwise would have been if I hadn’t plotted.