Posted in Outlining, Writing

Should You Outline Before, During, Or After Writing?

We talked about researching for your novel at any time of the writing process. Research when you feel it’s right. But when should you outline for your novel?

You may be thinking, “Before you write the story… duh.”

And that would be the logical time, especially if you’re a planner. But what if you’re not a planner? Or what if you are, but your mind just works differently?

when-should-you-outline

I outline before I write and during the writing process. This is mainly because I want to remember every detail and make sure I’m making sense along the way. Plus, it helps with the editing process later on.

Outlining before writing

I’ve talked about 4 outlining methods and then 3 more methods afterward. Most of them are typically used before you write, but you can use those methods whenever you want.

I don’t think I need to tell you that outlining before you write probably makes the most sense and it’s most likely what most people do. The point of outlining is that you have a good idea of what your novel is about and where you want it to go so you don’t get stuck on the side of the writing road.

If that’s how you feel, then outlining before you begin writing the main story is a good idea.

Outlining during writing

I find it helpful to get some outlining done during the writing process. I keep a list of scenes and what happens in each one as I write them. This helps me remember what exactly happens when I edit.

I do this mainly because outlines are like guidelines and the story can stray pretty far from the outline once you begin writing.

So, outlining during the writing process can break you out of the story a bit, but it’s also a pretty good idea to keep track of the changes from your original outline. Or, keep track of what happens especially if you don’t have an outline or any notes.

Outlining after writing

I’ll admit that I don’t think I’ve ever outlined after the writing process was complete. If I did, I don’t remember it.

But I do think outlining after writing the main story can be beneficial. Just like keeping track of what happens as you write, you can easily recap everything that happened once you’ve finished.

Once you start editing, summarize each chapter as you read through them. This will help zero-in on what you’ve written. It’ll help you remember what happens from chapter to chapter and be easier to catch plot holes and the like.

In Conclusion…

Can you outline at any of those times for one novel? Yes. Outline, write, outline, edit, outline. Why not? It sounds like a lot of work, but I’m sure it would be worth it in the end. It’ll save a lot of headache later.

Personally, I outline before and during for each novel. I find it helpful and it works for me. If you’re a planner, switch up when you outline. You might get something new out of it.

When do you outline for your novel? Let me know in the comments below!

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Author:

Born and raised in Massachusetts, Rachel Poli is a writer and blogger. She has an associate’s degree in Early Childhood Education and a bachelor’s degree in English Studies. She enjoys writing young adult novels, middle-grade, and children’s picture books. She is currently working on her first novel.

18 thoughts on “Should You Outline Before, During, Or After Writing?

  1. Hmmmmm I outline when I run out of story haha. Whether that’s in the beginning when I don’t know what to write, in the middle when I don’t know where I’m going, or at the end when I realise there’s plot holes.

  2. A lot of other authors have told me they think it’s a bad idea to outline but I think it’s totally in the author’s hands. I have been struggling to get my latest novel written and I have tried just starting, outlining, notes and none of it seems to work. Luckily, I stepped away and it seems to be forming its life again.
    I think I’m going to write my outline or maybe even notes as I go. Especially since I am thinking up a murder filled with drama. Lots to work on so notes are a large must!
    Great thoughts in your blog!

    1. I’ve heard that too. Some people think outlining is a bad idea because it takes away some of the creativity or you’re “cheating” or whatever. I think it’s totally up to the author and how we think and work. Also, depending on the genre, you have to outline and keep notes. I too am writing a mystery and it’s a lot to keep up with!
      I’m glad you’re starting to get back into the swing of things with your writing. Sometimes our brains just need a little break. 🙂

  3. I edit after my first draft so that I am ready to do a nicer second draft. Basically because my first draft is full of holes. Honestly I usually am outlining constantly.

  4. I outline as I feel the story coming together. This can happen either chapter by chapter or overall. When I start writing, I put together scenes in whatever order I feel they go (I guess you could call that a form of outlining), but as the chapter goes on, I get a sense of where it’s going. Once that happens, I outline the rest in notes that I write to myself. As I finish chapters and begin seeing where the story as a whole is going, I outline what I think each chapter will be about, and this gives me a picture of the entirety of the story.

    Of course, just because I have an outline, doesn’t mean that the story won’t go in an alternate direction. I frequently look at an outline and say, “Okay, that’s generally going to happen, but the details are different now because of what I ended up writing in a previous chapter.” I’ve also had instances in which what I thought would be a part of the story of one chapter ended up spilling over into the next chapter because I didn’t feel that it fit as well anymore.

    So, while I do outline while I’m writing, I also keep a fluid attitude when it comes to the story telling me where it wants to go and the characters telling me what they want to do and say.

    But that’s just my experience.

    Also, I think what you’ve written about outlining (including in the links you provided) is very helpful. I may try something different to what I currently do next time I feel blocked. In that case, I would outline before writing, which would be something completely new to me. I wonder how that would go. 🙂

    1. That’s a great way to go about it. Outlining is a guideline, so it’ll definitely change as you write the story, which is why I always find it helpful to outline as I go along so that I have exact notes.
      Thanks, I’m glad you found the articles useful. 🙂

  5. The last outline I did was after draft 1 and before draft 2 of my NaNoWriMo novel. Considering I haven’t written any of the second draft yet, I guess it’s technically outlining after.

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