Plots.  You can’t live without ’em.  And I’ve got to say plotting is the toughest part of the writing process for me.

Okay, that’s not a shocking revelation, and I’m sure not a single jaw is dropping right now, but I keep reading about authors who dash off outlines so complete, the actual writing of the book is easy. I don’t remember which author said this, but he said that his outlines are longer than the novels they spawn!  I am so envious of those who can come up with fully-formed stories before ever writing a single word. What’s worse, these people seem to be everywhere, especially in the stables of major publishers.

Meanwhile, I seem to be congenitally incapable of creating an outline, or even of envisioning a story from start to finish. Instead, I slog along from line to line, not knowing what’s coming next. I may or may not have a hazy image of an ending, but that’s about it.  I wrote my last novel from an opening line, without having the slightest clue as to what the next line would be, or what the story would be about.

I know, I know, there are no rules. That if writing without an outline works for me, or for anyone else, then that’s what we should do. Okay, I accept that. But here I am whining about not being able to outline or to even come up with a semblance of a story up front, and I’ll just bet my little old bottom dollar that there isn’t one single outliner out there who envies me. I once read a piece Harry Whittington wrote about his own writing career, and he said, “I could plot, baby. I could plot.” I’m quite sure he spent no time wishing he couldn’t plot, and had to instead rely upon limping from one line to the next. In fact, Harry Whittington aside, I’ll bet that no one who uses an outline wishes they could do it the other way.

How about it? Am I really doomed, or am I wasting energy wishing I could fabricate plots in advance?

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  1. If only there was a #1 bestselling book on the art and craft of plotting out there that has helped many. One that had a chapter on plotting “systems” and suggested ways for NOPs (No Outline People) to benefit from a more formal approach.

    I’m not just here to shill (honest!) but to offer up a word of hope. If you just use some “signpost scenes” you can be “seat of the pants” between them. From there, you’ll find it easier to do more outlining, even if it’s just a “rolling outline,” sort of two or three chapters ahead as you go along. Good luck!

  2. You sold me, Jim. I bought your book and I’m hoping it will lift me out of the muck.

  3. Thanks, Mike. Keep writing. We noir guys need to stick together.

  4. I’m frustrated from the other side of your equation: most of my favorite writers don’t outline at all, and I can’t work without one. They’re fairly simple outlines, a sentence or short paragraph about what has to happen in the scene, but I can’t write anything long that holds together unless I know where it goes. It can get there any old way, those decisions I make as I type, but I have to know what comes next.

  5. Mike Dennis

    Dana, I hope one day to be able to do what you can do. See comment #2 above.

  6. Joyce Ann

    Faulkner would take a notebook into his barn, stretch out on the hay and write entire novels, non-stop. As many of you know, some of his sentences were paragraphs long.

    Hemingway would put a sheet of paper in the typewriter and stare at it all day long, without ever writing a word. And, as you know, Hemmingway blew his brains out. So, everybody be careful. Do what comes naturally and ask for help, if you need it.

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