Here’s a question I often hear from people interested in writing a novel: I can’t come up with an outline. What should I do?
You may have heard of “pantsers” vs. “outliners.” Let’s talk about this.
The term pantser derives from “flying by the seat of the pants.” Pantsers jump into their stories without outlining in advance, completely caught up in the characters and unconcerned (at first) about the plot. For a pantser, the experience of writing is one of immersion in a fictional world. The plot reveals itself along the way.
For a pantser, trying to outline up front would only bring on discouragement and a sense of futility. But once the first draft is done, outlining can be helpful because an outline will identify tangents or redundancies that need to be trimmed or plotholes that require new pages.
Outliners plan ahead. They can’t imagine sitting down to write a book without having an idea of where the story begins and ends. Outliners take courage in knowing the bones of a novel before they begin to flesh it out.
Often, outliners aren't attached to specifics, adapting well when characters change and grow and events take new turns as they write. But to an outliner, plunging in with no sense of direction would only bring on discouragement and overwhelming doubts.
So it’s helpful to know whether you’re a pantser or an outliner. When you understand your style, you’ll quit thinking you “should” be approaching things another way. All approaches are valid so long as they get you to write!
Finding what works best for you is the big golden key. This seems to be true for everything from diets to exercising to picking out shoes, so it’s no surprise that writers often need to experiment before discovering what will help them get ‘er done!
Wishing you well on your quest,