Writing Advice: Outlining


Hey, blog readers! Today is the final Monday in October, which means that November is right around the corner. If you’ve been around the blog for a while, you’ll know that every November I participate in National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo). This is a mad-dash writing marathon, the goal of which is to write 50,000 words in just 30 days. I know, it sounds crazy. That’s because it kind of is. But it’s also wonderful and can be enormous fun. Most importantly, it forces you to write.

For those of us who participate in NaNoWriMo each year, October is the month of outlines. I’ve written about outlines in the past, and I acknowledge that they may not be for everyone. Some of us would rather fly by the seat of our pants than have a sketched out plan in front of us. That’s totally fine! But those of you who enjoy the process of outlining, or just feel that you need a blueprint with which to work, here are some tips. All of these tips come from the wonderful Chuck Wendig, who blogs about writing over at “Terrible Minds.” I encourage you to check out his site, you will not be disappointed. In particular, check out his outline tips for NaNoWriMo writers.

To begin with, Chuck lists the benefits of outlines, which may or may not convince some non-outliners of their utility. He says, “One of the values of outlining is that it gives you a map forward — a fraying rope to reach for and cling to in the long darkness of the writing process. Another value is that it lets you muddle through the mistakes of your story early on — it’s a lot easier to fix a 2-3 page outline than it is to fix a 300 page novel, I promise.”

I love this! Diving into a first draft with no plan is probably an exhilarating thing to do, but if you realize halfway through that you’re headed in the wrong direction, you can’t easily turn back and redo what you’ve already done. Especially not during November, when your one goal is to strive forward. Outlining beforehand let’s you work out the kinks of your plot and understand where it needs to change before one word is even set down on the page.

The rest of Chuck’s post is a priceless guide to every type of outline you might possibly choose to create. Seriously, you should check out this post. If you want to outline just to have some direction in your story, but don’t have a clue as to where to begin, Chuck’s post is a great place to start. Personally, I’m a big fan of the Beat Sheet, which Chuck describes as “literally outlining every plot point.” What can I say? I like to be prepared! No matter what type of writer you are, there’s bound to be an outline here for you.

So, if you’re participating in NaNoWriMo, I wish you luck during this last week of available planning time and I hope that you have a strong start to November. If you’re not one of us mad writers, I hope this post about outlining contains something that can help you with your current project. As always, happy writing!

— Jet Fuel Blog Editor, Mary Egan

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