Why You Should Write Your First Draft Before Outlining Your Novel

I often say I suffer from CRD—Chronic Rewriting Disease, a term I made up because it seems at least 50% of my work needs to be rewritten. But that’s my writing process, and I accept it. Sure, I could be like many writers and outline my novel from the start . . . but my brain doesn’t function that way. I’m a pantser, and that’s the way (uh-huh, uh-huh) I like it (uh-huh, uh-huh).

My secret is in outlining AFTER completing my first draft.

At first, I had some stressful moments, questioning my writing process. We all have to choose our methods, but inevitably we all reach a point where we wonder if what we’re doing is effective. So if you’ve reached this point and are interested in trying something new—even if you’re a hardcore pantser—I’m going to ask that you give this a shot. Pants away, but then use an outline (as loose as you want), and go for it. I use these handy SAVE THE CAT, SEVEN POINT STRUCTURE, & REVISING worksheets to help me reorganize my work. But here’s why you should try it, too:

1- The less you know before you start writing, the greater chance at discovering new possibilities

Personally, I feel constricted when I have an outline. Not everyone works this way, but because I’m OCD (ironically)—if I have the plot written a certain way—I feel I have to follow it through exactly as I planned. I have issues, I know.But when I just write to create, I uncover a wide array of potential outcomes.

Regardless, if there’s a deep range of prewriting, I question: how much of it is organic and how much is just a robotic translation of plots? And hey, it may be an amazing plot. But if—like me—you feel you shouldn’t deviate from your plans, I say create first, outline later.

2- Seeing the work can help you organize the structure.

Nothing helps you streamline your plot more than having all those extra pesky descriptions parade right in your face. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve rolled my eyes at the stupidity I’m capable of. But I can tell you seeing my mess makes me very motivated to quit sabotaging myself. And if you want the same, this will help you organize your thoughts and rearrange your ideas—old and new ones—to really frame out the plot and subplots of your story.

3- Your pace will thank you.

Whether you’re throwing a snoozefest or you’re zooming your readers through a car chase throughout the story, pacing is one of the few elements you can’t fully grasp until it’s all down on paper. Or screen.

Outlining your story after the first draft is written will help you develop your pacing and allow you to add smoother transitions. You’ll be able to integrate all storylines—underlying and major—into a solid draft. And this will make it a strong base for revisions.

4- You can detect plot holes.

Look, we all get sidetracked. Especially when we’re overly excited about torturing our characters. So having plot holes is perfectly normal. In fact, I’d say it’s expected. And if you don’t agree, you should really really lie to me. But anyway . . . that’s why it’s beneficial to use your first draft to restructure the story. You’ll be able to see the inconsistencies more clearly along with any contradictions you’ve so bravely written in.

It’s amazing the amount of damage we can do to our own genius. So thank goodness for revisions, eh? But truly, if you’re like me—and even if you’re not—hard work, passion, and dedication along with a few panic attacks and sweaty moments will get you to your final product. So go ahead! Use your first draft to help take care of all loose ends when you’re reorganizing the progression of scenes in your outline.

No really, go ahead. Right now. Go! :)

By S. Katherine Anthony

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S.K. Anthony (Shanny) is a writer, a reader, and make-stuff-up-er who lives in New York. She is an award-winning author and a bestseller on Amazon. When she isn’t busy with her toddler twins, S.K. finds herself being transported into the world of imagination. Well, either that or running away from spiders . . . she is convinced they are out to get her!