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To Outline or Not to Outline … Are you a plotter or a pantser?

You write. I edit. You shine.

To Outline or Not to Outline … Are you a plotter or a pantser?

I have a client I’ve worked with for over a year and we’re in the middle of wrapping up the seventh book in a series of eight. The man is prolific. He’s gotten to the point where he’s churning out 60-80K words every two to three months–and this isn’t the only series he’s writing.

The series I’m working on with him is a military sci-fi, kind of Transformers in space. Tons of action. Lots of bad guys. A few good guys trying to save the world. Did I mention there’s tons of action? And the books are fun to read. (I really, really like my job!)

How does he do it? He credits at least part of his speed to being a plotter. He outlines–big-time. Not only does he outline each book, but he has an overarching outline for the entire series. When I asked him about his method, he said he read Libbie Hawker’s book Take Off Your Pants! and has put her method to use.

Me? I’ve never been a plotter. I’ve always been a pantser–that is, I write by the seat of my pants. But I was curious about this taking-off-your-pants thing. Could I do it? Would I like it? Would it work for me? So I bought her book and read it, took notes on it, and I’m trying to put it to work for me. Why? Because I think we learn when we try new things.

I’m not sure if it’s going to work for me or not. I do think, if nothing else, it might help me when it comes to revision. That’s when I’ve found my biggest need for structure, and it’s when my books really seem to benefit from it.

So are you a plotter or a pantser? Do you wish you could outline and can’t seem to make it work for you?

If linear outlines aren’t your cup of tea, try using index cards. (I do this when revising too.) Write your major plot points on index cards first. Break those down into scenes on more index cards. Detail the scenes further if you need to on yet additional index cards. Then you can lay those cards out in front of you and look at how your story flows. You can move them around. You can throw some away. (Yes, that hurts, but sometimes you need to do it.)

If you are telling the story from multiple points of view, you could use colored index cards and designate a color for each character. That way, you can see each character’s arc through the story and you can also see how, when, and where the characters are interacting (or not interacting) in the scenes in the book.

Whether you’re a plotter or a pantser, it’s important to keep writing. Once you’ve got your draft finished and are ready for an editor’s help, send me an email at and tell me about yourself and your book. Let’s see what I can do to help you polish it before you send it out in the world!

In the meantime, post your comments and questions here with my blog. I’m looking forward to hearing from you!

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