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Those who have followed my writing journey for a while know my extreme LOATHING for story outlines. Yes, they’re incredibly helpful, but my brain just isn’t wired to write following an outline. That’s good because it lets me write what inspires me in the moment without restraints. It can be liberating, inspiring, and less rigid.

But it’s also bad. Very, very bad.

There’s nothing worse than aimlessly writing half of your novel just to stop and think “okay, now what? I haven’t planned anything past this point.” Now, it doesn’t mean you’ve wasted a year writing a novel that just won’t go anywhere. A writer will always find a way to push through and continue with his story. Still, this process will waste a lot of time and energy. And let’s be real…wasted time just isn’t ideal when participating in NaNoWriMo.

Some of you may be thinking, “I didn’t outline! Will I suck at NaNoWriMo 2016? It’s already Day 2!”

 You’ll be happy to know that even if you didn’t outline you can still remain on track this year. Many writers think that outlining is an important step taken prior to writing a novel. Sure, that would be best, but as we all know life isn’t always ideal, and neither is the writing process. I will reveal something about outlining that not only makes the whole process of generating one less tedious, but actually worked in creating my very first outline—ever!

The truth about outlines is that they don’t have to follow a strict guideline or format. When looking at certain outline templates it can be intimidating to see how everything is broken down in chapters and segments. If you’re like me and want to throw up at the thought of having to categorize everything, then the following tips are for you:

writing-stressOutline thoughts, not scenes.

You may not have the entire story figured out. Maybe you have the first few chapters and a small scene in the second half of your novel. Don’t get discouraged by the missing pieces. Look at your story in terms of thoughts and ideas, not scenes. It can be daunting to outline everything as it if it were a move playing out. Instead, jot down all of the story components you want to include in your story. Don’t worry if they don’t relate with one another at first. Just write them down and title that document Thoughts Outline. Yes, this is an outline, the foundation of the masterpiece you’ll write.

Get creative with your outline.

Most writers are also visual people. They like to see, touch, feel their projects and plan accordingly. One way to be hands on with your outline is to use flashcards. Buy a pack of flashcards and simply write down the name of the scene on one side, and a short description on the other. Number your flash cards in the chronological order the scenes will appear in your book. If you don’t have a timeline yet, don’t worry about numbering them. Highlight key word or sentences that have special meaning in your story.

Create a poster board.

Time to relive your science project days, except this time it will be more fun. If you are super visual and artsy, making an outline on a poster board will be easier than you think. This is where you can print out pictures that relate to your story, create charts, color code events, formulate characters, and make timelines.

write-a-novel-in-a-month-heres-how-you-can-do-l-buenriCreate character profile outlines.

This doesn’t relate to your entire plot outline, but what is a story without its characters? Defining each character and outlining their physical description, personality, mannerism, background story, flaws and attributes, will help shape your entire story. Who knows what ideas you’ll generate based on outlining one character at a time. Tip: create a separate file for each character.

To easy your anxiety about outlines, remember one thing: gaps in your story are normal. An outline gives you a place to start and a way to organize your ideas, but it doesn’t have to have everything figured out all at once. If you find you’re spending too much time outlining than writing your story, then it’s time to reevaluate. I have recently finished my story outline after writing half of my first draft. That means that doing the actual writing has helped create a stable outline. Don’t get so caught up with the process that you lose sight of what’s important: writing your story.
Have you created an outline for NaNoWriMo 2016? Share your tips, dilemmas, or comments.

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