Before You Write

Because I have gotten so many questions on various stages of the writing/publishing process, I’m doing a blog series on writing. Keep in mind that these posts are based on my own experiences & are in no way the “right” way to go about writing a book. This series is also focused on fiction writing and publishing, not nonfiction.

So you have a great idea for a novel. Congrats! The first step to writing a book is having an idea for a book.

The second step is writing it.

So what do you do before you actually write the book?

Well, some people outline.

These sorts of extraterrestrial monsters are called (shocker) outliners. They write their ideas down scene by scene before actually writing the book. They tend to have a lot less rewrites than their counterparts—the pantsers—and usually have a cleaner first draft. Their outlines can be anything from a couple pages to a hundred pages long, depending on how detailed their outline is. But the good news is, the skeleton of their book is down, now they just need to fill in the gaps.

How do you outline? 

Write the main plot point for each scene, and be sure to ask the following questions: Why is this scene here? How does it connect the prior scene to the rest of the story? What big thing happens/is revealed that makes this scene necessary? Some people write a couple words for each scene, others might string out a sentence or two, and others dedicate entire detailed paragraphs.

Then there are pantsers.

That’s me. Us pantsers may or may not know how the story is going to end, and we sure as hell don’t know how we’re going to get there. We write the book very much in the same way we might read a book: with absolutely no clue as to what’s going to happen next. (Apart from a few random scenes that popped into our heads while we were in the shower.)

We tend to let the dialogue flow freely and allow the plot and characters to guide us where they want to go, rather than us guiding them. When we finish that first draft, there’s a good chance we will pitch 70% of it and rewrite the whole thing. Like an outline, our first draft is but a skeleton, waiting for us to fill in the muscle and veins and skin and hair follicles and, well, you get the idea.

So which type of writer are you?

Not sure? I encourage all writers to try both methods and see which one works best for them. Try outlining. If you get bored, then pitch the outline and just start writing. If you get stuck there, then dig the outline out of the trash and try again.

My first book was pantsed, because I honestly wasn’t sure if I had a story until I’d written “the end”. I attempted to outline the next book I wrote, but the outlining process took all the mystery & excitement out of it for me, to the point that I had no desire to go back and actually write it. I already knew what was going to happen, what was the point of typing it all out? #amirite?

On the other hand, as I stated before, outliners tend to have a lot less rewrites and a cleaner first draft. If you need order, then try outlining. It might just be your thing (you rabid, alien creature).

The most important thing in either case is that you WRITE. 

And I’ll get into how to actually start writing that first draft next week.

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