Sharpening Your Focus – Why it’s Important to Outline from a Reformed Pantser

Remember the smell of a freshly sharpened pencil? Ground and shaped to a fine tip, it was the only way to color in those little bubbles on placement tests. Its marks on the page were dark and clear, easy to read. Though I’m dating myself, I have a point (pun intended).

I am a reformed pantser. In other words, for most of my writing life, I wrote by the seat of my pants letting characters dictate the story and without a plan in place have a number of stories half finished. I’ve been working on a story for three years. It’s just a romance set against the backdrop of magical realism. But, I’m stalled. And so it sits gathering proverbial dust.

But, as we all do when one year ends and another begins, I made my usual resolutions – travel more, love more, eat right, exercise, and write. Yes, one of my resolutions was to write more. 2018 is off to a great start for business. Those long hours this time last year are paying off. But, I digress. See, this why you should outline!

Having an outline helps to sharpen your focus. Below are a three reasons to outline:

  • Helps you organize your ideas.
  • Defines boundaries and groups.
  • Aids in the process of writing.

And so I began. To outline. Because one of the best gifts I got this year was a chance to work with a professional author, a bestselling author, to ghostwrite a couple of books. One of the first requirements? An outline. Hands tremble, knees shake. I haven’t done an outline since high school and even then it wasn’t fun.

But, since this is my year to write more, it’s also time to learn and educate myself on writing better. I’ll glance at news blogs from time-to-time, business blogs as well, but without fail, I read my favorite writing blogs daily and last night dug out Stephen Wilber’s Mastering the Craft of Writing. Each year is a process and each year, I learn, I improve, I push boundaries and stretch myself to new heights. Who knew outlining would fall into that category?!

And so I cobbled together a few outline templates, trying to find which best fit me. Turns out, it was a melding of outline styles because I discovered something. I could be a plotter (outline) and a pantser (writing by the seat of my pants). The story began to form and I found myself asking questions I might not otherwise have thought of and I wondered….if I went back to the book I’ve been working on for three years and outlined it, I might finally finish it. Whether I self-publish or go the traditional route, I’ll be able to put that book behind me and start on the next.

Oh wait, except for marketing…I’ll need to do that, too. Otherwise, the book gathering dust on my “bookshelf” will fade into obscurity. Marketing is a process, like writing, but I’ll get to that in the next post. Baby steps. Baby steps.

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