Wednesday, February 13, 2013

A Pantser With An Outline

I love outlines. There, I admitted it. I love structure and format. The plan. I like to know where I’m going, what I’m going to do along the way and how long it will take to get there.  In the beginning, it was about having a safety net and knowing the story in my head was solid enough to carry sixty thousand words, or a hundred.

And I’m not ashamed to say I like it. I write each new chapter off “the outline”, an excel table I've printed out and scribbled all over. Before I start writing, I note how many words I have and calculate the word count of the start of the next chapter and the halfway point (so I know where to switch perspectives). I refer to both the outline and any notes I've made often to keep me typing along until I hit my word count. After all, naptime only lasts so long and then it’s off to school to do the Kindergarten pickup.

But am I missing something?

What qualities and/or conditions are most valuable to a writer? Spontaneity. Freedom. The opportunity for unstudied, impulsive roving through the backlands of his mind.
(Dwight V. Swain- Techniques of The Selling Writer)

Scaaaaarrrrryyyy…like a bad horror movie stabbing motion, the idea of “frolicking” seriously freaks me out. I like structure. I like to know where all my plot threads are…at all times.

So where do I fit this free flying, no-parachute, heart-in-throat plunge into the swirling vortex of my imagination?

Before the outline.

Back there in the research/planning phase where the novel is more like a grab-you idea and the characters are waiting for you to dig out that book on personality profiles so you can figure out who they are.
That’s my pantsing—flying by the seat of my…uh, you know. Impulsively dreaming, ‘what if she’s really dead already, like that movie?’ or ‘what if that character was a girl, not a boy?’ etc etc. Because when I get to the first draft, I want to be all left brain workaholic get it done and not drifting in a right brain fog that doesn't get you anywhere.
I’m not discounting an idea hitting you mid-sentence and sparking something that, in the end, will make your book better, brighter, grander. But maybe that’s what re-writes are for. Because if you follow your plan, the first draft will be solid—so long as the idea is fully developed—and in the editing stages can only get that much better.

But that’s just me.

What do you think? How do you juggle creativity and productivity in this line of work where you have to be all business while at the same time you’re digging artsy stuff out of your brain?

Lisa Phillips is a contributing blogger for Fliterary. You can find her on Twitter @lisaphillipsbks and at

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