New Outlining Process

When I wrote my first novel, I had no idea what I was doing.


I started with a 1,500-word short story and just expanded it in both directions, figuring things out as I went along, with no plan. After five years, I had a completed first draft (after a fashion) and it took five more years to hone that into a publishable novel.


The second time around, I chose to use a very complicated structure, involving multiple timelines and multiple viewpoint characters. I put together a very rough idea of where I wanted the story to go, which evolved into a sort-of plan and eventually gave me a reasonably detailed framework at the second or third draft stage.


For the third novel, I did quite a lot of prep. I brainstormed a lot more before I even got to the point of making a plan. And I used a handy but quite bare-bones plotting process to put together a basic scene list, which gave me the road map for the first draft. I did the same for number four (which is currently being submitted as a novella because my process wasn’t in-depth enough to produce a novel-length work at the first draft stage).


Earlier this year, I had the opportunity to go on a writing retreat, for the first time in over two years – and it was marvellous. One of my focuses during that week was on developing my outlining process, with a view to doing a lot more prep work before starting novel number five.


I read multiple outlining books, took lots of notes, and added a vast number of new steps to my existing process – creating what I’m now calling my Master Outlining Process.


At the next writing retreat, a few months later, I started work on novel number five in earnest, following the new process. I’m not even close to being done yet – and I already have far more information about the world, the characters, the story and the plot structure than I’ve ever had before at this stage in the novel-writing journey.


It feels good, but also overwhelming. I’m really excited about the book and I’ve come up with a ton of ideas that probably wouldn’t have occurred to me organically, as part of my previous way of doing things. But – I have fifty pages of handwritten notes about the novel and none of it is organised in any kind of useful fashion. I’ve just been jotting things down as they come to me, whilst also following a fairly loose outlining structure. And now I have no idea what to do with it all.


It’s great stuff, and I hope it will create a better novel than I’ve written to date – if I can ever figure out how to turn it into a successful draft. I know I need to organise all the information in some way (and I’m hoping World Anvil is going to help me there) – but I have a lot more of the process still to get through and it’s starting to feel like what I’ve got is very unwieldy and difficult to manage. I’m worried I’m going to lose details along the way, because I can’t hold it all in my head and I don’t know how to capture it all in a way that’s going to make it easy to reference.


Still, it’s been a fun ride so far, and I’m looking forward to working on it more – which is always a good sign! I have basically the whole book worked out in the most general terms, and a lot of really great detail that will hopefully make it into the worldbuilding and character development – somewhere, somehow, somewhen!

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