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Do you outline your article, story or novel before you start writing? Outlining has always struck me as sounding a bit too much like work, and I’ve preferred to think of my creative endeavors as being freeing! unrestrained! Unfortunately, I‘ve come to the realization that my unstructured writing usually winds up being plot-less! unfinished!

One reason I avoid outlining is that I’m not entirely sure how to go about it.  I don’t think I need to outline the same way I did in high school, with all those Roman numerals and indentations and such. Even less appealingly, “outlining” was big in law school (as in, “have you outlined the Torts chapter on Trespass to Chattels yet?”)  Yuck!  I try to avoid thinking about law school whenever possible.

I know there are no “rules” for how best to outline, say, a novel, and that it’s all very individual, whatever works best for each writer, etc., etc. But the thing is, I’m overly wordy and impatient on a good day, so I’ve always thought that once I start taking the time to write a really long, detailed outline of the story rattling around in my head—well, I might as well just start drafting the story and see where it ends up. Unfortunately, this usually means that my stories just keep going… and going…with no end in sight.

Well, it’s finally dawned on me that this approach is not working out. As much as I would like to think that my stories grow and blossom and wind their way toward an inevitable and satisfying finish…. that really never happens. So what’s an aspiring novelist to do? I don’t like outlining, but I feel I must at least try it, and I really, really don’t want to use Roman numerals.

This is not really my outline.

Well, it seems the stars have aligned to help me on my way!

First, I found this great Writer’s Digest Magazine blog post called How to Outline (The Easy Way) Like Janet Evanovich” that a) makes me feel better since it seems I’m not the only reluctant outliner out there, and b) shows an example of how million-billion-gazillion-copies-sold author Janet Evanovich outlines: with pictures! Well, not really with pictures—but she uses a more visual approach to outlining— a “storyboard” method. That seems do-able to me.

Second, the perfect, no-risk laboratory for my outlining/storyboarding experiment happens to be starting TODAY! National Novel Writing Month has begun! I’ve participated in NaNoWriMo for the past two years— just plunging in with a whole lot of seat-of-my-pants writing and hoping for the best. Both times, I started out strong, writing a chapter or two of an actual, continuous story—only to hit a wall, and have my Nano experience deteriorate into more of a daily personal journal rather than culminate in an actual story. Well this time, I’ll face Nano with a storyboard outline! I’ll stick to it and see if I can write through a whole story– with a beginning, middle and (this would be unprecedented) an end.  If it’s bad, it’s bad. I don’t care as long as it gets finished. That’s all part of the fun of Nano– you are allowed (encouraged!)  to write badly, just as long as you write (finish!) your novel.

So, I’ll be making an outline…. right after I finish this blog post! (Just to prove to you how much I abhor outlining, I couldn’t bring myself to outline this blog post about outlining. Perhaps that explains why it sort of veered off into being more about ‘finishing things’ than ‘outlining’, per se.)

Now back to my original question: Do you outline? What do your outlines look like? Do you stick to them? I’d really love to know what works for you!