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Writing according to an outline is difficult for me. I’m one of those writers who figures things out as she goes, who allows the characters to craft the scene and lead me down a path I wasn’t expecting. However, an outline is invaluable for keeping me on plot.

Right now, I’m 27K words into my NaNo novel and I’m getting through my outline with a ridiculous amount of roundabout writing. The thing about NaNo is that the focus is not on quality, but quantity. While that can be wonderful for fighting writer’s block (it doesn’t matter if it’s good, just that it’s written down), it can be terror on a carefully crafted outline.

One would think that it would help a writer keep on task, but the outlines I write are not detailed enough to include each scene I must write. Therefore, when I write one scene which I outlined, I often find a gap between that scene and the next. In getting to the next plot point in my outline, I find that I delve along rabbit trails and often take myself away from that outline.

While I can discover some great gems doing this, I also construct a much less cohesive plot in the process. It’s at about this point of the novel writing process where I realize I have taken too long getting to the real plot, and I get frustrated with myself. (And then distract myself with writing about eight blog posts just to avoid writing my novel.)


I have realized that these rabbit trails of writing are a valuable part of my writing process. Often when I start a novel, I have a vague idea of a character’s backstory and how a character got to this point–for the point-of-view character. For other characters, minor and major, I have much less of an idea how they got to this page in my novel. Often, those secondary characters just show up and I start to write them, using them for my purposes without an idea of where they came from or what I’m going to do with them. My outline doesn’t extend that far.

What I have realized often happens for me is that I write my way through these secondary characters’ backstories. Now, most of this writing does not and should not end up in the final draft. But, it is vital for me to know my character’s backstory. I could accomplish discovering this in different ways, including writing a character journal on each character before I sit down to write the novel. But that doesn’t work for me. I’m not that organized, truthfully.

What works for me is more organic. As I write the novel, I realize I need a new character because the ones I’ve already created are getting stale, or I need a foil for the main character, etc. So I create one. And as I write that new character, their details come to light, and I begin to recognize where they affect the plot. Sometimes, these spur of the moment creations become a major character that I wasn’t planning on.

So instead of getting frustrated with these twists, I need to refocus on one of the great things about NaNoWriMo: meeting a large writing goal every day forces me into abandoning my outline and letting it grow as my novel expands.

These impromptu discoveries can be a blessing, creating plot twists and complications where there weren’t any, and creating conflict where it was sparse.

Plot twists, complications, and conflicts are what a novel thrives on after all.

So instead of letting my outline constrict my writing, I must choose to let it grow.

Now, it’s back to the rough draft, back to getting the words on the page and trying to “win” NaNo 2013, abandoning my frustrations by recognizing that my outline is not a failure, but something imperfect that is going through a growth spurt.