Rebecca asks: Do you outline? Or do you just have a general concept of what you’re going to write? I know you do that spreadsheet thing, but do you start out that way, or not until after the first draft? Or something else entirely?
I have outlined. And I prolly will again in the future. But I hates it. There, I’ve said it: Nothing drives me crazier than outlining.
The Magic or Madness trilogy was outlined. It had to be because I sold it as a partial.1 And when you do that the editor wants an idea of what they’re getting. It took me weeks and weeks of round-the-clock work to produce that outline. It was hell. It made me scream and throw things. All I could think was, Why am I wasting my time writing this sketch of the novel when I could just be writing the bloody novel?
Writing that outline was far more painful and agonising than writing Magic or Madness. But I have a sneaking suspicion that part of why MorM was so fun and relatively easy to write was because of that outline. Everytime I got stuck, I pulled it out, had a good old squiz, and hey presto was back on track.
On the other hand, my first (unpublished) novel was written without any kind of outline and I had a lot of fun writing it too. But it was written under only self-imposed deadlines and over many many many many years—I started it in 1988 and finished the first draft in 1999.2
I also wrote the first draft of Magic’s Child without an outline. But the ending kept not working. I rewrote it countless times and it kept defying me, until I had a sitdown with my editors, Eloise and Liesa. For the meeting I had to rough out a new non-crappy ending. That’s right, I had to outline it. Did I enjoy doing it? No. Was it better than rewriting the ending uselessly another hundred times? Yes.
So for me outlines are an occasionally necessary evil. The book I’m writing at the moment seems to be swinging along fine without one, but if I get stuck I may just find myself sketching out the rest of the book in order to figure out what’s going to fly and what isn’t. I imagine it beats writing and rewriting the ending a gazillion times.
I may also find myself outlining my next novel, because it has a very tricky, scary structure and outlining might be the only way to figure it out satisfactorily. But I’ll start writing it first to see if I can wing it and only if that fails will I resort to a yukky outline.
But all of this is just me. I know lots of writers who swear by outlines. And others who won’t even use them to the begrudging extent that I do.
It’s like everything else—if it works for you then do it, and if it don’t, don’t.