Remember when I said I was a pantser who wanted to give outlining a shot? These days, I'm a pantser who must outline to maintain her sanity and keep her word count goals on track.
I was a victim of Second Book Syndrome, during which I was nearly paralyzed by self-doubt. For that book (The Burden of Desire), I pantsed the way I always do, but then when I got stuck, I found I couldn't get unstuck quickly. I never want to be in that position again, and so I'm working with an outline for book three.
I started off by writing a chapter-by-chapter synopsis of the book, which came out to about five single-spaced pages. It’s not a detailed outline by any means, but it loosely sets forth the story, character developments, and major plot points. I then began writing without referring much to this outline. When I get lost, my synopsis is there to remind me where I'm going. As a bonus, it was useful when creating a proposal to send to my editor.
Thing is, I'm still pantsing around. I can't help it. My characters will do or say something, and that action or statement will illuminate an entirely new path I hadn't anticipated. Those kinds of surprises excite me and keep me writing, so I embrace them. Also, these developments end up feeling organic to the plot in a way that some of my initial outlining plans don't. I inevitably learn about my characters as I write, and some of the outlining plans fail because I didn't know my characters well enough at the outset. It's fine with me when characters direct the plot. At least the plot is moving.
This is the part where I look into the computer screen and say: Pantsers, it's okay to outline. Really. You're not going to lose that seat-of-your-pants thrill that you get from writing. What you're going to reduce is the wasted time that comes from having a great idea at the outset and then writing yourself into a corner. It's much easier to solve plot problems up-front than to face the excruciating prospect of chopping off a chapter or two. I treat my outline as a safety net. I know it's there when I need it, but otherwise it's really just an exercise to get my thoughts straight before I began to write. I don't adhere to it rigidly. In fact, some parts of my outline are still a little murky. Okay, okay…a lot murky.
But hey, I'm a pantser at heart. Murky is kind of my thing.