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Outlines … and a Contest!

September 13, 2010

Recomended for help with Outlining.

Hello readers and fellow Wicked Writers. After last week’s beautiful stories honoring heroes and remembering lives lost on 9/11, it is apparently now time to get back into the business of writing. This week’s topic is:  Setting realistic writing goals and outlining.

I can hear everyone groaning like a bunch of teenagers in an English Comp 101 class. Let me start by saying that I could probably spend all week enthusiastically talking about goals and outlines. So be happy I only get one post.

I’m going to leave goal setting for someone else to talk about so I can discuss my newest obsession. Outlining.

It baffles me that a lot of writers refuse to outline. They say things like “It hinders my creativity.” Um, excuse me? What? I have to disagree. Outlining may not give you brilliant ideas, compelling characters, or an amazing plot arc, but it doesn’t take those things away either. On the contrary, a good outline is like a snap-shot of your novel, so you can easily see where those elements need to be developed.

I’ll admit, when I first started writing I thought it was just a matter of sitting down and typing a story. Outlining seemed like an extra step that would take up my time. I’ve come a long way since then.

I think the reason so many writers turn the other check to outlining is because they don’t know how to go about it, and thus, they are afraid of it. There’s no reason to be. We’re not talking about query letters here. No one is going to read or judge your outline. You can write it however you want. It’s your ideas, organized in a fashion that allows you to find them, use them, and build off them, again and again, at any stage in the writing process.

And yeah, whether we like or not, outlining is essential to success, reduces stress, mistakes, and prevents wasted time. How many of you ever spent an hour searching through post-its and scrap paper for that brilliant idea you scribbled down in the middle of the night? Hmm. Too bad you didn’t jot it down in your outline, right in the exact scene you intended.

Since no one is going to see your outline besides you, you do have the option of making it really simplistic. A list of plot points, for example. However, I favor a more detailed outline, with character sketches, setting sketches, research notes, a plot summery, and ideas for scenes all ready to go – typed up and handy. Trust me when I say it makes life easier.

Like I said, I didn’t always use outlines. There was a time when they seemed taunting to me too. If you still cringe at the idea of outlining, there is a book I recommend that will help you get started. It’s called First Draft in 30 Days by Karen S. Wiesner. Just don’t be fooled by the title. You won’t have a first draft in 30 days, but you will have a constructive, detailed, and organized outline that’s almost good enough to be your first draft. Even more awesome than that, Wiesner teaches you how to revise your outline so you don’t have to revise your first draft. When done correctly, all you should have to do is edit and proofread.

Ahh, yes, outlines are beautiful.

Now for the CONTEST! It’s my turn to host this week’s contest, and I’ve put a lot of thought into this. *Insert wicked laugh here* I’m going to use this opportunity to do some shameless self-promotion. Please real ALL rules and instruction below:


I’m hosting a scavenger hunt that runs from Monday, September 13th, 2010 at 9:00am Central time to Monday, September 27th, 2010 at 12:00am Central time.

How to enter and WIN:

1.    Subscribe to the Wicked Writers blog, then leave a comment below with your first and last name and “I SUBSCRIBED TO WICKED WRITERS FOR THE SCAVENGER HUNT” somewhere in your comment.
2.    Follow me on ( , then send me a direct message on Twitter with your name and “I’M FOLLOWING YOU FOR THE SCAVENGER HUNT” in the message.

3.    Go to my personal blog and follow OR subscribe to my blog. Then leave a comment on my blog with your name and “I’M FOLLOWING YOUR BLOG FOR THE SCAVENGER HUNT” in your comment.

4.    Go to my website and sign the guest book (yes, you have to look for it). Include your name and “I’M SIGNING YOUR GUEST BOOK FOR THE SCAVENGER HUNT” in the message.

5.    When you’re done with the above items, send me an email at and include your FIRST and LAST NAME and an EMAIL ADDRESS that I can reach you at. Make sure the subject of your email is “THE SCAVENGER HUNT_YOUR NAME”. For example – THE SCAVENGER HUNT_J.D.BROWN.


1.    You must complete ALL five (5) of the above requirements. If you are missing one, you will be disqualified. I will email anyone who is missing an item, so long as I receive your email entry before the contest closes at 12:00 am central time on September 27th, 2010. Anyone missing an item after midnight on September 27th will not be notified and will be disqualified from the contest.

2.    You must remain a follower on Wicked Writers, my Twitter, and my blog until after I have announced the winner (which will be on September 27th, 2010 at 9:00 central time).

You do not have to be active or continue to post comments other than the ones required for the contest and you are free to stop email subscriptions/unfollow me after I have announced the winner.


First place is a $25.00 Borders gift card!

Second place is a $10.00 Borders gift card!

Winners will be selected at random by my Pomeranians. Hopefully they won’t eat the prizes…

Happy hunting!

J.D. Brown

11 Comments leave one →
  1. September 13, 2010 1:24 pm

    I’ve never outlined before-but-I”m having so much trouble getting my most rescent story idea off the mark, I think I need too. I hope it will give me direction. As for the creative part, if you’re creative you’re creative, an outline doesn’t determine it.

    • September 13, 2010 6:44 pm

      I definitely recommend it, Lee. Thanks for commenting and good luck with your current project.

  2. James Garcia Jr permalink*
    September 13, 2010 2:27 pm

    OMG! I followed all of your social networking sites, the white rabbit and ended up at your front door. Did I go too far!
    Just kidding. I read your post. Very convincing argument for doing the outlining. I will save my comments for Friday’s post. Thanks for allowing me to cheat off of your paper.
    Kids at home, Uncle Jimmy is only kidding. 😉

    • September 13, 2010 6:48 pm

      The joys of being the first post of the week …. I’m tempted to write a real persuasive essay on why every writer should outline before they write, post it on my personal blog, and open it for debate … Hmm. 😛

  3. September 13, 2010 5:48 pm

    Certainly with you on outlining, JD. I wouldn’t be without it. It’s what I was doing on holiday in Greece. Mine starts with a spreadsheet, goes through a database of scenes and ends up in around 20,000 words of outline! And, as you say, the best thing is the first draft only needs editing and proofing! And writers block isn’t an issue, as you know where the story is going all the time. 🙂

    • September 13, 2010 7:08 pm

      Oh yeah, I forgot to mention outlining reduces writers block! Thank you. Yes, a well developed outline is a joy. Though I personally don’t go so far as a spreadsheet or database, but I can get pretty wild. Especially with character sketches!

  4. September 13, 2010 7:29 pm

    Sheeesh. You guys make me nervous. Well, maybe I’ll wind up in outlineville next year. I do it when I get into trouble, but usually not before. Oh, and did I tell you I usually get into trouble? But that is half the fun!

    I guess I start with the characters first, write the story that the character wants me to write from that POV, that slice of his/her life they inhabit, then I try to mess them up by putting things in their path – I mean the worst things. And when I think I’ve done a good job, I go one worse.

    I think my only saving grace is I can easily do 5000 words a day and have many days. But honest and truly, I’d rather write than outline. I finished a 92k book in 30 days last year. I can’t concentrate with an outline. I have to get it down quick, cause the other story is right behind it, itching to be told.

    My hat’s off to you, though. And your writing is probably much stronger because of your routine. When I have to start outlining even cleaning the bathroom seems more fun.

    • September 14, 2010 10:41 am

      Sharon, if I could write a novel in 30 days – and write it WELL – without an outline, I would. But I can’t. Not in a month. Not without an outline. Also, I don’t consider a book “done” until it’s been revised, edited, and proof read to perfection. With a day job, my time is limited and any help or organization I can use goes a long way in keeping my sanity. Lol. I don’t like getting in trouble. I don’t like getting stuck or having writers block, or having to edit over and over and over because I missed so much the first time. But to each their own. More power to you, if you can write on the fly. 🙂

      • September 14, 2010 11:06 am

        Well JD, notice I didn’t say I wrote “well”, but I guess finishing the rough draft would be more accurate. Yes, I agree completely, a book isn’t “done” until it’s polished. Nice thing about having 5 or 6 of them out there is I can work on what I’m in the mood for.

        But I see your process, and am glad it works for you. It is hard sometimes to stay inspired when there is so much editing going on, and I can see outlining could keep me on track.

        But then, I always liked playing the piano, creating my own music. Never liked to practice, although I did for 10 years. Feels too much like my mom standing over me when I plan it out too much. Only time I feel free is when I write. Honest.

  5. September 13, 2010 9:26 pm

    It’s time for me to burst some bubbles. 😀 (It’s my favorite thing to do after all.)

    Not everybody can outline — it really, truly does hinder their creativity.

    I, however, can only outline for certain stories. My YA fantasy is outlined, I’m just waiting for the summer to come so I can do a nonstop writing on it. My contemp YA? Not outlined, but I know where it’s going — I “see” every scene. I don’t want to sit down and outline when I could be writing it.

    But for the YA contemp, I do have a notebook so I’ll be able to write down ideas and still be writing the story. Also, that’s where I write down character sketches as I write their descriptions in the story — hopefully I won’t get anything wrong, lol.

    But then again, when you sale a series to a publisher, you have to show your editor a small outline for the next book(s), and it doesn’t have to be detailed.

    There’s a reason why there’s pantsers and plotters — some absolutely cannot outline for their life, and the other can’t pants. I’m an exception, I guess. 😉 Lol.

  6. September 14, 2010 12:31 pm

    Great job, J.D.! I am a big believer of outlines. Granted, I haven’t been writing all that long, but it did help me create and not lose sight of where the story was going.

    My outline is loose, only 3 to 5 sentences, but it makes a HUGE difference for me.

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