This week, we’re still discussing novel outlines. This time, we’re discussing outlining your novel during your first draft writing session. Why? There are a few reasons. Keep reading to dive into the topic.
Should You Write A Novel Outline?
We’ve talked about the pros and cons of writing a novel outline. Whether you decide to outline or not is entirely up to you. And you don’t need to outline for every writing project.
When I began writing, I always thought that writing a novel outline was the first step of the creative writing process. An optional step, for sure, but it had to be the first one if you chose to do it.
Then, I slowly realized that wasn’t the case. I could outline my novel whenever I wanted.
So, I experimented. I tried writing multiples projects by writing an outline:
- Before the first draft
- During the first draft
- After the first draft
- During the first round of edits
I liked writing the outline during my first draft. I enjoyed the process more, and it was easier for me overall in the long run.
Let me explain some reasons why.
Benefits Of Outlining Your Novel During The First Draft
It sounds silly to outline your novel as you write it. I know. I thought so, too, at first. But the point of an outline is that you have a direction to go in while you write, so you don’t get stuck. So, why write your ideas down as you go through the motions of writing the book?
Outlining A Novel During The First Draft Turns Your Thinking Upside Down
Again, a story outline helps steer you in the right direction. It lets you track your main character arcs, list of characters, character development, plot points, scenes, story structure, and more.
You can create those lists as you write them into your story. But what if you get writer’s block?
Sometimes, getting through the writing block is as simple as writing through it. That’s where the outline comes in.
If you complete a scene or chapter in your novel and don’t know where to go next, write about it in your outline.
Of course, this will depend on how you choose to outline. When I do it during the first draft, I summarize each chapter and keep a list of characters, settings, events, and plot points.
Once I complete writing a chapter, I summarize it in a separate document or a notebook. When I do this, I sometimes come up with new ideas.
Whether I know what the next chapter will entail, I’ll get new ideas as I summarize what I just wrote. I think it’s because I’m still thinking about the scene, but there’s no pressure behind it because I’ve already completed it.
Sometimes it’s something as simple as a line of dialogue that I think of, so it can be something as drastic as choosing to go in a different direction for the next chapter.
Outlining Your Book During The First Draft Saves You Time
As mentioned, most planners outline their novels before diving into the first draft. If you have a lot of research to do, this is a good idea. Or, if you have so many ideas, it’s a great idea to get them all written before you forget them.
But that is an added step to the overall process of writing a book.
You’re cutting out time when you write your outline as you write the first draft. Yes, it’ll still take you longer to get through the first draft, but you’ll remain on the same page (no pun intended) with your book throughout the process.
Let me explain what I mean by this. I’ve written an outline and started writing the first draft many times. Unfortunately, by the time I finished writing the outline – summarizing chapters, creating character profiles, research, etc. – I’d forgotten the story’s beginning.
And yes, that’s exactly what the outline is for. You’re supposed to look back at it.
However, after working so hard on the outline, I often felt like I had completed the first draft already. So, I’m somewhat burnt out with the story when I finish the first draft.
Writing A Story Outline During The First Draft Helps With Editing
Something else I’ve found while writing book outlines during the first draft is that it also makes the first round of edits easier.
Regardless of the outline and when I do it, I always keep a list of editing notes as I write each draft of my books.
If I outline during the first draft, I can leave a note to research something for a specific chapter or page in the story. Then, I won’t need to go digging for it.
I’ll also know which are the stronger chapters, filler chapters, and which chapters need work. It’s almost like writing an in-depth table of contents.
What About Outlining After The First Draft?
Outlining after the first draft is a good sweet spot, too. Of course, you can always outline during the first round of edits, but I usually add to my outline as I edit regardless to ensure my outline stays up to date.
When I finish the first draft of a story, I usually take a break before diving into the editing. This break typically lasts two to four months, depending on what other projects I’m working on.
To refresh my memory, I read through the draft before I begin the editing process. If I write the outline, then it helps me to remember not only what happened in the story but also allows me to find things that need solid editing. Then, I can have a plan when I officially edit.
When Is The Best Time For Outlining Your Novel?
There is no best time. It’s whenever you feel most comfortable. You don’t have to outline if that doesn’t fit your writing style. Also, you can try many different outlining methods, which we’ll discuss next week.
Rachel Poli is an indie author, podcaster, and content writer working on her debut cozy mystery novel.
Although she favors mystery, Rachel is a multi-genre author with too many ideas and characters in her head, often experimenting with short stories and flash fiction.
When she’s not writing, she’s reading, organizing something, or playing video games. She currently resides in New England with her zoo.