Why I outlined my book. Again. (BTS February 2024)

by A writer's life

Hi again! My February plan to get unstuck from the muddy middle… Well, I didn’t get unstuck. But it wasn’t a complete failure either.

February writing recap

My plan for February was essentially:

  1. Outline my book again
  2. Write every day
  3. No more editing-as-you-go

Here’s how that went:

1. Outline my book again

I had an outline before I started writing Project: Dreamcatcher. Then I went a bit off track and started pantsing. Before I knew it, I had gone down the wrong pant(sing) leg and got myself stuck. So, my theory was that revisiting the old outline and doing a proper new one would be a great first step to getting myself unstuck.

And here it is… My new outline!

How I set up my book outline

I feel like I should explain what you’re looking at, as this isn’t necessarily your usual book outline…

In short, I popped open Whimsical – a fantastic (not sponsored) mind mapping ++ service, which has a very generous free plan – and started a mind map of my book.

The mind map format wasn’t quite right for me, so then I went and did a flowchart instead. Much better!

I’ve kept the screenshot of my outline small, so that I’m not giving away the plot. But I’ll explain the structure and colours anyway.

The green boxes are chapters that I have already completed. The yellow box is what I’m currently working on, and the blue boxes are chapters I’m yet to write.

There’s a red box there as well… That’s a chapter I need to add in later. It’s to give my antagonist a bit of a backstory and show his motivations for what’s to come.

Above the coloured chapter boxes are plot points in light grey (like ‘inciting incident’, ‘dark night of the soul’ and such), and locations in dark grey.

Below each outstanding chapter, in white boxes, is the sequence of events for each chapter. You’ll notice I don’t have a sequence of events for the last three chapters yet. I’m still working on those, and I’m leaving myself a bit of wiggle room depending on what unscheduled antics my characters get up to before then.

If you squint closely, you may see some lines (they’re actually dashed arrows) between some of the white event boxes in different chapters. That’s to show myself how certain events are necessary in a particular chapter to set up other events later on.

And then finally, there’s the ‘loose threads’ box, with lots of orange clouds and one red one. The orange clouds are things I may need to weave into the story – both what I’ve already written, and what’s yet to be done. The red cloud is something I absolutely have to get into the story in order to set up the big boss battle climax towards the end of the book.

So there you have my newly developed system for outlining my book.

Did the outline help get me unstuck, though? The answer is no, not yet. But where I had sort of lost my way before, I now have a path forward.

2. Write every day

The next step in my plan was to show up and write every day. That one didn’t go 100% to plan. I didn’t write every day. In all honesty, I didn’t even write on most days.

I think part of the reason I didn’t get there with this step of the plan is that I put off writing until the evening on most days. I was often tired and uninspired when I finally sat down, and some days I ran out of time.

But it wasn’t a complete fail. Even if I didn’t write each day, I did take time out on most days to actually work on my book. While the word count didn’t increase nearly as much as I had hoped, I spent a lot of useful time looking over what I have written so far, getting to know the characters again, creating the new outline, and thinking about what needs to happen next.

3. Don’t edit as you go

I have a habit of editing as you go (EAYG). I’m constantly looking back over what I just wrote to fix up typos and badly written sentences. That’s terrible, because the creative process of actually writing your story is very different from the not-as-creative process of editing is. Our brains can’t really handle doing both well at the same time.

All the advice I’ve ever heard from every author ever is that your first draft will be a stinking pile of 💩, and that’s ok. All you want from your first draft is to paint the story in a broad brush. Then for your next draft you get your finer brushes out and you add in all the little bits and pieces that make the story great, and then finally you improve your actual writing.

I struggle with this so badly because I’ve spent the past nearly 20 years working in communications, where all you really do is filtering what you’re writing and saying to suit your employer’s narrative. That, and I’m a total introvert who tends to go through every conversation in my head, in detail, even before I have the conversation.

Anyways, the last part of my February plan was to practice not editing as you go. I never expected to suddenly cure myself of EAYG-itis in just a few weeks, but I did my best. While writing, I made a conscious effort to not go back and fix things up right away. It was difficult, but it felt much better in terms of creativity.

My plan for March

Now that I’ve reflected on what went well and what went wrong in February, here’s my plan for March:

  1. Fix up the outline for the last three chapters of the book.
  2. Continue to avoid editing as you go.
  3. Get my writing time in as early in the day as possible. (This will be a tricky one for me as I’ve always felt I do my best creative work at night. But let’s try anyway!)
  4. Write at least 2000 words, hopefully more.

Life update

I’m not really going to do a life update for February… Except to say that I turned 44. (Yay me!)

That got me thinking though… People kept asking me what presents I wanted for my birthday. Being a typical male, I didn’t really have a wishlist. So I half jokingly told everyone that I just want time. I kind of just felt like it would be lovely to have more hours in the day.

But, then I realised… The only one who can give me more time is myself. That’s true both with prioritising what I spend my time on, how quickly and efficiently I do things, and how well I look after my mental and physical health.

I don’t feel like I’m doing any of those things particularly well, so there’s something else for me to work on. I’ll get back to you on that next month. But hey… If I get better at this, I’ll have more time to write in the future! 😁

Until next month!