Seat-of-the-pants vs Outliner


The past few months have been particularly difficult in a writing sense for me. I dipped into one of those writing slumps that I have heard so much about and to be honest, I’m not entirely sure I have been able to safely negotiate my way through it just yet. If anything, I can see the end ahead but I think I’m still pushing forward trying to get out. I haven’t had one of those days where I cracked out more than a thousand five hundred words in many a month. In fact, I haven’t had a day where I’ve broken a thousand words.

I suppose you could say that I took a little time out to just have a break and to focus on my day job (the boredom!!).

I believe my problem with not being able to get into that comfortable groove of writing is all dependent on the question of writing by the seat of the pants versus being a heavy outliner. Stephen King has always been a great proponent of writing without an outline and “extracting the fossil of the story from the ground”, while writers like Brandon Sanderson advocate a more structured process to writing by creating an outline first.

I’ve already finished two novel length manuscripts using the seat-of-the-pants approach (Pecan Hill and When Angels Fall) and wanted to use the outline approach when writing my next one, the first novel in a duology (a two book series). My thought was that because it was the start of a series, I would need the structure and stability brought on by the outline approach in order to be able to write a series. My only problem is that I absolutely HATE outlines. I’ve always thought that the best way to write to discover the story as I write it and it’s always been more interesting to me like that.

But Lords of the Apocalypse (the name of the series) has a huge mystery in it and I’ve been struggling with how to solve the mystery. I wanted to go into the novel and the series knowing the steps that the characters would have to take in order to crack the mystery. That way I wouldn’t have to go back and have so many new drafts at the end to try and get everything right. The problem is that the steps I take after I have finished a manuscript are pretty much the same steps as my outlining steps at the beginning of the project. Insane I know, but it’s the truth. It’s this step which actually robs me of any passion I have for a project.

I’ve been trying to do an outline for Lords of the Apocalypse before the devil climbs on my shoulder and whispers in my ear that I should just write the thing like I did with Pecan Hill. This means that I’ve been stuck between two approaches and it’s not working. I need to get more willpower to stay the course and finish the outline before I leap into the writing. I know it’ll help me otherwise I’ll reach the end of a chapter and a scene and then be stuck because I have to think of what will come next.

If I plan and outline before hand, I don’t need to stop at the end of a scene – I already know the next step and can carry on.

I just need that backbone.

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