To Outline or Not to Outline, Part 3

The writing process is different for every writer. So, I thought it would be fun to compare the processes of some of my friends and see which outline and which create by the seat of their pants.

The week stared with my process, then nonfiction writer Donna Janell Bowman chimed in. Today, we’re hearing from the lovely Nikki Loftin, whose debut middle-grade novel The Sinister Sweetness of Splendid Academy will be published by Razorbill (Penguin) in summer 2012. Later in the week, we’ll hear from Bethany Hegedus, Jessica Lee Anderson and P.J. Hoover.

Nikki Loftin

Nikki Loftin

Now, here’s Nikki:

There is no part of writing more wonderful to me than the Great Beginning. That first thought of “what if,” that image of a nest balanced between two branches that makes me imagine a magical girl sitting there, the turn of a leaf in the wind that spurs an unravelling of thought — that’s my favorite time. (Honestly? It’s better than the advance check. But don’t tell my editor I said that.) But for all the poetic bliss of those beginnings, I have to admit I start most of my books out of spite.

Yep, spite.

For instance, my most recent manuscript — a book about a boy who isn’t allowed to believe in anything supernatural then moves in next door to the devil and his daughter — came about when some well-meaning friends complained about the presence of witches in a previous book. (THE SINISTER SWEETNESS OF SPLENDID ACADEMY, coming out in summer 2012!) “Oh,” I thought, “you don’t like witches? You think kids shouldn’t read about witches??? Well, how about… SATAN??!! And then I gave an evil laugh and began typing. I have other examples, but I think you get the picture.

Outline vs. Pants

I’m firmly on the fence here. When I was studying writing at UT, I turned in a story that had a lot more plot than usual. (We wrote literary fiction, and most of my stories were just setting, setting, setting. BORING.) My professor asked me if I had known what was going to happen at the end when I began writing. When I admitted I had, he beat me about the head and shoulders with a copy of Dante’s INFERNO, and made me promise never to make such a dreadful mistake again.

I think outlining too much makes my work predictable. So I like to live with the “what if” in my head, wait for the characters to sort of gel, and get that first sentence by Muse Mail before I start writing.

Then I write about the first 10,000 words. After that, I outline a bit, so I can get an idea of where I’m going, otherwise, I could end up wandering the literary desert for 40,000 words with no end in sight.

I always leave the ending in slight doubt, even in my own mind. That way, I’m still discovering the story as I write.

My process evolved from 100% pantser to about 75% pantser, 25% plotter. I do a LOT of thinking about motivation and stakes before I write.

And of course, revisions are a completely different story. I outline the whole book in revision, to get an idea of where I might have gone astray, and to help myself trace the plot and character arcs. I hate revising like the Devil (who is actually a very nice character in my book).

I’ve finished seven manuscripts, and started quite a few more, so I’m sure the process will continue to evolve. And who knows what editorial deadlines will do to my process! I hope I find out. I really do like those advance checks.

Really, really like them.

Part outliner, part pantser. Great, Nikki. Thanks!

Do you outline or not?

By the way, Nikki goes into more reasons why she writes on her blog.


What do you think?