Why I Outline As I Write

Most people outline before they begin writing their novel.

If we learned anything last week, it’s that we can outline before, during, and after we write the novel.

This isn’t something I realized I could do until recently, though. I always thought I had to outline before I started writing. Last year for Camp NaNo I didn’t finish my outline in time and ended up outlining as I wrote the novel.


After spending the time before the writing process to outline and adding additional writing time to outline some more as I put words to paper, I discovered a brand new world and realized that I had been outlining all wrong.

I mean, for me, anyway.

I used to outline each scene, picking out plot points and important things here and there before I began to write. Then as I wrote, I tried my best to stick to it. Of course, outlines always change and characters have a mind of their own and decide to change course without telling you.

So, as I wrote my novel I stuck with the guideline, changing it as I saw fit. I added to it when I wrote new things, rearranging the scenes, and taking some away. In the end, it was a pretty big mess. I found myself working more on the outline than the actual novel. I was spending more time trying to figure out what I was trying to say rather than just saying it.

For the next novel, I decided to outline differently. I summarized each chapter before writing as well as made a list of characters, plot points I hoped to get across, settings, and more. I realized summarizing the chapters would allow me more wiggle room rather than practically writing the story scene by scene, just minus the extra details and words.

Then I started writing.

As I wrote, I realized something else. Why can’t I map out each scene like I had before as I wrote? By the time I get to the editing stage, the scene map would be more accurate than the chapter summary allowing me to find certain points easier and understand more of what’s going on, what to edit, and how to edit.

In the end, I have a list of characters, settings, and more, alongside a rough summary of each chapter, and then an accurate map of each and every scene.

It sounds like a lot of work, but it’s actually not that bad at all. My mind works in strange ways and it helps.

So, that’s why I outline before and during the writing process. Will this work for you? I don’t know, but feel free to give it a shot. It can’t hurt.

How do you typically outline? Do you outline as you write, too? Let me know in the comments below!

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13 thoughts on “Why I Outline As I Write

  1. Rachel, I simply can’t outline. I think it is because I used to outline my scientific papers – you HAVE to – and when I finished outlining, I was bored. The story (paper) was essentially written. So my mind rebels at the idea, especially since I never know where my WIP will lead me. It takes some remarkable turns that surprise me.

  2. Such an interesting idea! Honestly, I think this might be a solution to the major problems people have with outlining – starting before each chapter instead of outlining the whole thing gives you less chance of burnout and more chance to incorporate the changing circumstances of the novel into the chapter. Great tip!

    • Thanks! I definitely find it to be more useful. It’s still not something set it stone, but it’s more accurate than the “before” outline.

  3. There’s a typo, right in the middle, of your opening sentence. Other than that, you may have given me the best writing tip I’ve ever found. I’m certainly going to give a try; so far, it seems very helpful. Good Luck to all.

    • Good catch, thank you! Even when I went to go fix it, my brain kept reading it wrong. I couldn’t find the typo, lol. It’s fixed now, so thanks for catching that. 🙂

      I’m glad you found the article helpful. Good luck with your writing and thanks for reading!

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