Prior to this first novel, I’d never written fiction by outline. I had dreamy notions that the story should simply emerge from my subconscious, and that outlining was too academic and stifling. But when I committed to really, really writing a novel for reals, I thought a little stifling would behoove me—after all, I’d already trashed two attempted novels because they’d gotten cumbersome and off-track. And since I had given myself permission to write a shitty novel, I wasn’t risking much by being academic about it. So I wrote an outline.
And… I discovered that I love writing by outline! It’s the best! Here’s why:
1) Greater story continuity: I drafted the whole story arc in a matter of days, which made it easy to keep myself immersed in the world of the story, avoid plot holes, and ensure that my themes and characters were threaded evenly throughout. Plus, I can refer back to my outline—which I do, every time I sit down to write—to make sure the story is on track. My outline is my insurance policy for story continuity.
2) Easier day-to-day writing: I can waste an astonishing amount of time staring off into space, paralyzed by the infinite number of writing choices. I find it very daunting, the fact that what happens on page one has to lead—inevitably, logically, and entertainingly—to what will eventually happen on page two hundred. Luckily, Past Sheila did all that work for me already! I don’t have to worry about those high-level concerns. At the start of a writing session, I merely sit down, consult my outline, and do what Past Sheila tells me to do: “Okay, Sally gets mauled by a rabid chicken in this scene? No problem.” I don’t have to question whether the scene fits into the plot or is in keeping with character—I already know it does, because of my outline. My daily task is to just get the sentences on paper.
3) Clearer sense of progress: Writing a novel by outline, I always know how much novel is left to write. I find that quantitative measurement so very reassuring and encouraging—especially since a writing career can leave one with distressingly little to show for oneself! (Or is it just me?? See above note re: wasting an astonishing amount of time.) Writing by outline, the goal is never out of sight.
Of course, each of us writers is a special snowflake, and no two will follow the exact same routines and rituals, but my advice would be to experiment—you never know if something will suit you until you try.