If there’s anything that I learned from Nanowrimo it’s this: I am a planner, through and through. And as a planner, one of the most integral parts of my Nanowrimo preparatory routine is the time-honored practice of outlining my novel.

Outlining, simply put, is a semi-detailed break-down of a novel’s plot. And there’s no right or wrong format. It can be multi-layered and indented like this:

I. Chapter One

A. Enter Mr. Whatshisface

1. Stuff happens

i. More stuff happens.

II. Chapter Two

… or it can be as simple and streamlined as a list of bullet points, like the outline I drafted for my 2010 Nano-novel, pictured above. It just has to organized, and make sense to you.

As for how detailed you should go, strike a balance. Don’t be so vague that you might as well have gone pantser, but not so detailed so that you’ve essentially written your novel. Remember, an outline is both a test run and a road map. You want to put down enough details and specifics so that you know exactly what will happen at every major point of the story. Afterwards, run through the outline. When you notice potential pitfalls—plot holes, pacing fails, loose ends—adjust your plot according. Lather, rinse, and repeat until you have a pretty solid plot. And organize it so that you know exactly what parts of your novel you’ll be writing each day. (It’s also not a bad idea to make sure that your novel will actually “fit” within the 30-day constraint.) What I’ve done in the past is break down my plot into 30 chapters, and write one chapter a day.

One of the reasons why I always outline is that it almost guarantees a peace of mind while I’m writing in November. Because I’ve worked out everything beforehand, I’m not wasting precious writing time by worrying over whether or not my story idea will actually work, or fixing a plot hole, or figuring out what’s next for my characters. Instead, I’m focused on the good stuff: writing, hitting the daily word count, and enjoying the craziness that is Nanowrimo.

For those who haven’t outlined before, give it a shot! I admit, it does sound tedious, but trust me it’s surprisingly fun. For those who do outline, do you have tips or thoughts to offer on the subject? Let me know!

Write on,


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