I had outlined the core romantic story, which is really just the middle third of the book, prior to going to the Rainforest Writer’s Retreat***. As a result, I had enough of a framework to just write. The words flew. Most of them won’t stick, being a first draft but it was pretty effortless. Then I moved on to the rest of the novel, after the Retreat. I did not outline those sections and I am inching along. Oh I’m getting words written every day, forward momentum and all that, but I’m feeling my way in the dark. And realizing the sections I’m writing are not accomplishing my goals for the novel.
Now my outline was just a page. It was simply a description of the series of events that lead the two characters to meet, fall in love and some thoughts on what kind of internal conflicts they were going to encounter. That worked well. I expanded it out to a chapter by chapter outline of what was to happen, just a paragraph for each. And I quickly diverged from that but the one-pager helped keep me on track. It made it clear to me what scenes need to happen. It didn’t restrict me. Once I got into those scenes, the old magic took me. Words flowed, the scene came to life in my mind for me to watch. All the things I was afraid I was going to kill by outlining was there waiting for me in the scene.
I’m not going to tell you how to write your novel. The sad/wonderful fact is that every single writer needs to experiment and find out what method or combination of methods works for them. There is no right way and no wrong way if it get the novel written. If you need to wander out into the dark and explore and find the novel writing blind, do it. If you need to write 30,000 words of an outline before you commit to writing the first draft, do it. So long as you finish the novel, do it.
Myself, I realized how freeing a few pages and a few hours of dream thought can be. Now I just need to lock myself in the library and get the outline done.
*Mostly because I love pants.
** except for the story needing to kick into gear at the 10% mark. I’ve tested a number of novels and that actually seems to work, so it might be closer to a rule than others.
***This is an awesome writing retreat, especially for genre writers who are looking to get away from life and just write for a few days.