Outlining —–> Drafting – …But I Also Have a Day Job


It’s been a really good month for novel drafting.  But first, a quick rewind….

Since January 2021 I’ve been working on a Secret New Novel Draft that I’ve wanted to start for literally years.  I knew this novel was going to be big—and for a while, I thought it might be too big.  As in, I wasn’t sure if I could do it.

As such, I tried taking time to research and plan the novel first…which didn’t go well, since my research wasn’t focused and much of the story seemed to exist in a murky haze.  I needed to write the story so I’d know what to research, but I also needed to research to write the story.  Augh!!!

So, I decided to jump right into a rough draft and see where it took me with the seat-of-your pants method of writing.  (Writers who do this are commonly called Pantsers, a name I find somewhat ridiculous…)  This allowed me to move forward, and helped me get quite a ways into the draft.

Unfortunately, though, around the time I started getting insanely busy, I also realized that the Pantser method was only getting me so far.  I found myself intimidated by the story, since there were still so many question marks, and the draft I was writing felt incredibly disorganized, which made it more difficult to sort out in my head.

Worst of all, though, is that because I was only working on the draft one day a week (usually for three or more hours at a time), I wasn’t doing anything with the novel for those other six days.  That meant that for the majority of the week I wasn’t even thinking about the novel: I was thinking about everything else except the novel.


A Plan and a Promise

When things got hyper-busy in November I decided to take another novel hiatus to clear my head and sort through the monumental life upheavals of my busy job and moving back from Japan.  This was pretty necessary, since any novel writing I could have done during that time wouldn’t have been very good, and it would have set me back further on other things I needed to do.

Then, when things calmed down after the release of MFA Thesis Novel, I realized that not only was I ready to get back into the Secret New Novel, I was excited about it again.  As in, I found myself thinking about it more, mulling over the ideas and characters, and wanting to feel the thrill of writing again now that I had the time.

That’s when I made myself a promise and set a start date: On Tuesday, May 3rd, I was going to start back on the Secret New Novel Draft.


Slow Steps

I kept the May 3rd promise, but the first few days were slow.  I’d set aside my mornings to work on the novel draft while I was still fresh—and crucially, I held off checking email until I was done writing for the day.  This was an important step toward keeping my mind clear of the stresses and hassles that come up during the day.  (I have been checking and responding to texts after breakfast, though, which is an approach I have mixed feelings about.)

The first day wasn’t really a drafting day at all: it was an outlining day.  I pulled out my Secret New Novel notebook for the first time in months and took notes about an important plot element I’d been thinking about but that still felt hazy—I needed to get the ideas on paper so I could fine-tune them and make them more real.  The note taking involved a bit of daydreaming/procrastinating, but I got down all the notes I wanted.

Then, I called it quits for the day.

The second day was similar: I had another theme I wanted to take notes on, though this one was more complex.  Again, I pulled out my notebook, made the notes I needed, and called it a day.

The third day was more ambitious: I started a new notebook for Character notes only, since the Secret New Novel has kind of a lot of characters.  On the first page I wrote down the protagonist’s name and scribbled down everything I knew about him: his appearance, mannerisms, hobbies, habits, backstory, and motivations in the novel.

This took several pages, and when I was done, I felt ready to pull out my laptop, start at the chapter I’d last written in October, and just read over what I’d written.  I did this to familiarize myself with where I was in the story, and also to make a few minor tweaks—things I wanted to change or fine-tune at this point in the draft.

Then came the fourth day, where I repeated the process.  I wrote down notes about the main character’s sidekick, then pulled out the draft and read/made small revisions.  This time, though, I reached the end—and kept writing for a while longer.

So, in the entire first week I really only took notes, reviewed the draft, and wrote maybe 400 words.  More importantly, though, I established a routine, and put myself in a better position to move forward.


A New Approach

I felt energized after that first week—like, really energized.  Yeah, I can do this!  I also really liked the idea of starting a writing session by pulling out my notebook and just writing character details or part of an outline, then moving to the actual draft afterward.  There were still so many parts of the novel that needed fine-tuning in my mind, and doing this broader work first ensured that 1) The outlining would actually get done, and 2) I would be warmed up and thinking about the novel by the time I pulled out the laptop.

The second week was more productive overall: Not only did I stay in writing mode for longer, I found myself writing more quickly, with more time spent on the actual drafting.  That translated into more words on the page every day.

I still kept up my morning writing schedule, but compromised by doing it for only four days.  The fifth morning (usually Monday, but this week it’s Friday) I set aside to work on other things, including this blog, catching up on editing projects, and promotion for MFA Thesis Novel.  This is also possible because I work from home now and can set my own hours, and it’s one of the main reasons I made this change in the first place.

I just finished my fourth week of the Four Mornings Outlining —–> Drafting routine, and it’s going pretty great.  Not only do I find myself thinking about the Secret New Novel more often during my off time (in a good way!), I’ve made a TON of progress on the Outline and Character Lists, AND on the actual novel itself.  For comparison, I’ve written more in the last four weeks than I have in the last eight months.

This week I did some quick math, and if I continue at roughly this rate (or even slower!), I can easily have a draft finished by late summer. This, in turn, puts me in an excellent position to start editing in the fall, and hopefully (fingers crossed!) have a finished draft ready by early next year…but I don’t want to get ahead of myself!


Final Thoughts

Getting back into writing for me was chiefly about de-cluttering my schedule so I had actual time to write.  Apart from that, I needed time for outlining, thinking, and research to better understand the novel and put me in a better state to sit down at the laptop and write.

I expect to keep this routine up as long as it keeps working for me, then figure out something new.  In the meantime, if you think the Outlining —–> Drafting routine might help you with a project, give it a try!  It’s been working wonders to focus me at the beginning of a writing session, as well as put me in the right mindset for a complicated creative project.



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