Do you outline?

Q&A With Shay Each Sunday

If you have joined me again for my next Q&A with Shay each Sunday, thank you! And if at any point you’d like to ask me a question that I did not come up with myself/pulled from past (most likely socially awkward) conversations, please reach out—via technology, because I cannot be this elaborate IRL. Here we go for question two on the writing theme.

Q: How do you start a book/do you outline?

A: Honestly, I wish I were an outliner. It seems like it would be so much easier to know exactly what the story is going to be and how you are going to get there with all the major plot points mapped out along the way. Kind of like driving with a GPS when you have no clue where you’re going (I don’t know how anyone ever ended up where they were supposed to pre-technology). I often use Google maps to drive like .4 miles so the fact that I don’t outline seems totally out of character. I like plans and knowing details about situations before I jump in. I hate being caught off guard, but I guess with fiction it’s not quite like real life (I mean, it is make-believe…), and as long as no one has to read it until I’m ready—I’m never ready—it’s all good.

I have tried outlining to an extent, but mine are usually very vague and it feels like I’m forcing it. I never know how the story is going to end when I start. I am definitely a fly-by-the-seat-of-my-pants writer (though I promise I try to avoid cliches…like the plague). I can hardly imagine knowing all the scenes to include without actually writing them first. I start with a general idea of what the story will be about and who the narrator will be and then I basically let it unfold as I go. It’s kind of exciting to figure out what the story is as I’m actually writing it, and learning things about my characters that I didn’t know when I first invented them. Of course it leads to A LOT of revising because sometimes things end up in there and I’m like, “Okay, this scene is pointless, who wrote that? Not me. Does this character even exist in this book? WHY are they talking about the Revolutionary War?” But once I get going and start figuring out which direction is the right one, and what’s working, I find the process really fun—for the first draft. Then, I begin edits and think I’m the worst writer in the whole world, but that’s normal, right?