Is Writing an extensive Outline a Waste of Time?


I had a conversation today on Facebook with fellow writer about NaNoWriMo and different methods of preparing for it. Plotting or pantsing it? If plotting, then how much to prepare in advance? Stuff like that. She is the ultimate pantser who doesn’t even have the vaguest idea of what her story will be about. She said she will just sit down on November 1st and write whatever pops into her head.

I must admit that I am envious of people who can pull that off. I can’t. I tried a few times and failed miserably. Those unfinished stories still gather virtual dust somewhere on my computer…

Anyway, I admitted that I need a detailed outline  as well as extensive character and world-building research in order to make the most of my NaNo writing time.

She asked me just how detailed my outline for Shadow Hunters was, and I told her that it was 20k words long.

You know what her answer was? “What a waste of time.”

Original by nord_modular on Flickr
Original by nord_modular on Flickr

I was rather speechless at first. Then I started doubting myself. I had been researching this project since the idea popped into my head in July, though I put it aside to do a new round of edits on Mists, but still, I put A LOT of effort into the prep work. Was it really a waste of time?

I guess it depends on your point of view.

Sure, I could have written 2-3 short stories in the time it took me to write that 20k words outline. And by the time I finished it, I also knew that I would change most of Part 1 anyway, because what I had written in the outline simply wasn’t working. And, judging by past experience, I tend to deviate from my outline all the time, sometimes tossing it out of the window altogether.

But you know what? If I hadn’t written such an extensive outline, I wouldn’t have noticed the problem with Part 1 until I was a good ways into my first draft. So I would have had to drudge to the end of the draft knowing that I would need to rewrite at least 1/3 of the story upon editing. When it comes to editing, I am slower than a turtle, so a full rewrite would have cost me countless hours. But since I noticed that problem at the outlining stage, I can rectify it directly in the first draft.

Another advantage of this extensive outline is that now I know exactly where the story goes and what important milestones it must hit along the way for maximum impact. And I have detailed outlines of those crucial scenes. I also know what role most of my characters play in the story and how they will react in different situations.

I know that for some writers, this knowledge will kill the creativity. After, what’s the point writing a story if most of it is already in the outline? Well, the story might be in the outline, but it’s written in a dry plan-like manner. Now I have the exciting task of taking that lifeless outline and instilling it with my character’s voices and breathing life into this world. That’s the most difficult and the most rewarding part of the writing process.

So for me, spending a month to write a 20k word outline is NOT a waste of time, but an integral part of my creative process. If fact, I wouldn’t even call it an outline anymore, but a pre-draft.

Of course, just because this method works well for me, it doesn’t mean that it would work for you as well. There are no absolutes when it comes to writing. The writing process is as unique and deeply personal as each writer’s personality. To me the pre-draft is essential to understand the story I want to tell, but to the person I spoke with, it was a waste of time. That doesn’t mean that my process is better than hers or that her story will be more interesting than mine…


So what is your writing process? How do you prepare for NaNo? Or what do you do before you start writing a brand new story? Outline or not? How extensive are your outlines?

Happy Two Year Anniversary!


I can’t believe I almost missed the two year anniversary of my blog! I was so busy getting ready for NaNoWriMo and dealing with the looney bin my workplace had transformed into because we are having a switch of command. Good thing I logged on the site and noticed a nice little reminder WordPress sent me today…

Two years… Wow. When I started this blog back in 2013, right before I was gathering the courage for my first ever NaNoWriMo, I would never have imagined that I would still be here two years later. I had imagined that I would either get bored with the blog or run out of ideas to write about. Or simply get tired of it.

But I’m still here two years later. Still writing and still blogging and (hopefully) not repeating myself too much. Though I must admit that this is a bigger commitment than I first imagined. When I created the Tower of Winds, I had promised myself that I would update it regularly, at least twice, but no less than once a week. Well, trying to balance that, full time work and my writing as well had been challenging at times.


And my regular readers might have noticed that I have slipped a bit in the past few months, especially in the book review department. I am sorry about that. Life got in the way and my reading speed slowed down to a crawl. I promise to resume my regular schedule of Friday reviews soon!

When I first started this blog, I also had only a very vague notion of how much time and effort writing a post required. It’s hard to write a good post that is both funny and informative. You don’t want to bore your readers, but you want to leave them with the feeling that they learned something useful as well. And you need to try and cram all your thoughts into a thousand words or less as well, because you risk to lose your reader if your post drags on and on and on.

It’s also hard to come up with a good topic for a post sometimes. There are weeks when I know exactly what I want to discuss and my fingers fly over the keyboard because I can’t wait to share my thoughts with my readers. But there are also weeks when I stare at the blank screen for hours thinking, “Now what? Is this it? Did I really run out of ideas?” Good news is, an idea always pops into my head eventually, at least so far…

And while blogging is hard work sometimes, I also love it. It gives me a different medium to express my thoughts; to share my fears and doubts by also my joys and achievements with like-minded people.


So Happy Two Year Anniversary to the Tower of Winds! I hope that you will stick with me and my ramblings for the next two years as well. Now I’m going to pour a glass of wine and celebrate this properly.

NaNoWriMo is almost upon us.


For most people November means Thanksgiving, College football, Black Friday, and stuffing yourself with so much turkey that we can’t look at it for at least the next six months. But for a select group of crazies out there, November is the month where they throw caution (and sometimes sanity) to the wind and attempt to write 50k words in just 30 days. Which also means starting a brand new story on day 1 and either finishing it on day 30, or in my case, getting a good chunk of the narrative down.

For millions of writers around the world, November is the event they have been waiting for, hoping for or dreading, gearing up for all year long. It’s NaNoWriMo or National Novel Writing Month.

Last year, I did a series of posts about NaNoWrimo that you can find under the On Writing – NaNoWriMo cathegory, so I will try not to repeat myself too much. If you are still not sure if you want to try doing NaNo  or not, I would recommend reading this post – 5 reasons everyone should do NaNoWriMo at least once.

So today, I want to talk a little bit about my reasons for doing NaNoWriMo. This isn’t my first rodeo, so to say. I’ve done (and won) NaNo in 2013 and 2014, and I went on writing afterwards until I finished the novels I’ve been working on. So I am not approaching this year’s NaNo with a need to prove that I can do it. I’ve already shown that I can. But I am just as giddy and excited about November 1st as I was two years ago. And do you know why?

Because NaNoWriMo is a wonderful and unique opportunity to throw your caution to the wind, shut your inner critic in the basement, and just run with the story. There is nothing better to shut down your “Spock Brain” as Kristen Lamb puts it in her excellent article, than having to put out 50k words in only 30 days. That’s roughly 1.7k words a day, which can be a challenge, especially if writing is not your full-time career and you have to carve time for it out of your already busy schedule. My average daily output during the year is about 600 words, sometimes a bit more, but I try to never do less. Well during November, I have to do almost triple to keep with the word count.


Let me tell you that when you are pushing yourself to write as fast as you can for as long as you can in the limited time you have (for me it’s early morning before work, during my lunch break, and before bed when the rest of my household is asleep), you don’t have time to second guess yourself or worry about your sentence structure or verb usage or even if that paragraph you just finished makes sense. You have to press on and keep the story moving, no matter what. Even if it seems silly or stupid; even if you feel like your writing is horrible; even if you are certain that you just zipped by a plot hole so big a small truck could fall into it.

During NaNoWrimo, I don’t have time to worry about that, and I never go back to re-read / edit what I have written. If I get an idea on how to change something, or if I know there is glaring mistake somewhere, I write it down in my notebook and keep on going. I can address all these issues during revisions, but I need a fully finished draft first.

And I don’t know about you guys, but for me there is something liberating about just rushing ahead and letting the story spill out of you without any restrains. Yes, it might be half-baked and will definitely not win the Nobel prize of literature, but it won’t do that just sitting inside your head either.


So I take a deep breath on October 31st and set off into a mad dash that doesn’t slow down until November 30th. By that time, I usually have over 50k words of my new novel written and the momentum carries me well into December and January when I finally finish the draft, because most of my novels run in the 100k words category. Of course, I usually slow down after NaNo, going back to about 1k words a day, but by that time I’m past the halfway point of my story and I am excited about reaching the end.

So to conclude this rambling post, for me NaNoWriMo is the essential yearly boost of motivation , like a writing vitamin shot, and I wouldn’t miss it for the world!

Writing Progress Report.

I haven’t posted an update on my various writing projects in a while, so I think I’m overdue for one, especially since I will be starting a new first draft for NaNoWriMo 2015. So here is what I am working on, what I set aside to grow and mature, and what I had to shelve until better times.



Of Broken Things

This is the first story I had ever finished, and like any first book, it needs A LOT of work to transform from a messy disjointed first draft into something I wouldn’t be too ashamed to put out into the world.

I have been doing edits and rewrites on it off and on for the past two years, with long interruptions to focus on something else, because otherwise I get the desire to pull my hair out, bang my head on the wall, and laugh hysterically. The good news is that two out of three parts are now fully rewritten. The bad news is that Part 3 will require a MAJOR rewrite. I’m kinda dreading that one, actually, because I’m pretty sure it will bring me to the brink of a nervous breakdown by the time I’m done with it. So that story will remain on the shelf until I’m done with NaNo and the revision of Choices.

But I discovered one good thing about going back to edit a story I wrote two years ago. I can see just how much I’ve grown as a writer. It’s easy to get discouraged in the writing process, because the changes are so gradual that they often get unnoticed. Sometimes we even feel like we are regressing instead of improving. That’s when you should pick up one of your old drafts, because you look at it and you think, “Wow, I’ve really come a long way! This is ghastly… but I know exactly how to make it better.”

The Choices we Make.

I had tried to write this story down several times during the years and gave up, but I finished the first draft during NaNo 2014. Well, in January 2015 after that Nano, to be precise. But I haven’t touched it since then. This is the second book I’ve ever finished so it doesn’t need as much work as Of Broken Things, but I will still need to do a pretty significant rewrite of Part 3.

This is a recurring trend for me, I’m afraid – I tend to drop the ball in the third part of the story. I get cold feet and decide not to follow the conflict to its logical resolution. I am too nice to my characters to make them suffer, even if it’s necessary to the story. So the climax and resolution of the main conflict falls short of the expectations.  I know exactly what I need to change to bring this story to the next level, so Choices are in the first place in my editing pipeline after I’m done with NaNo.

After all, my beta extraordinaire and most ruthless critique partner says that once this story is fixed, it’s good enough to try querying agents for traditional publishing with. Coming from her, it’s A HUGE compliment.

Blue blood on the page!
Blue blood on the page!

Mists of the Crossworlds.

This novella is fully rewritten. The story is as good as it will be plot and character-wise. Now I just need to tighten up the prose and hunt down all the pesky grammatical and spelling errors.  And find an editor who wouldn’t cost me an arm and a leg.

I think about self-publishing this story sometimes in the December – January timeframe. This will likely be an adventure on its own, so expect a few blog post about that particular endeavor.

Shadow Hunters.

This is my new project. I’m planning on hammering down the first draft during NaNo and after it (and be done with it by the end of January at the latest). As of today, the worldbuilding is done, and all the main characters have complete bios. I am working on the outline, which promises to be 25k words long all on its own, the longest outline I’ve written yet. I’m done with Parts 1 and 2, but I still need to outline parts 3 and 4 before November. I can feel the stress levels rising.



Ghost and the Good Doctor (temporary title).

This is a novel-length story that popped into my head after listening to the k-pop group BigBang’s song Monster.

I have written down the scene that sprung into my mind during the song and jotted down some details about my protagonist, Ghost, as well as some other characters. I barely scratched the surface on the worldbuilding front though. This will probably become my NaNoWriMo 2016 project, because I have too many things to edit to be able to start working on another full-scale novel until then. It’s hopping around my plot bunny enclosure right now, growing fat on fresh grass and the corpses of other, weaker plot bunnies.

Eye of the Norns Cycle:

After I had published the first short story about Ryssa in this anthology, I got the idea to write several more stories about her journeys and put them in chronological order. I have written the next story in the cycle, but haven’t had time to edit it yet. I have also outlined one more story and have ideas for at least 3 more. This might be a project I work off and on in between the revisions of Choices next year.


This short story will be a companion piece to Of Broken Things and will take place 15 years before the events of the novel. I know exactly what it will be about, but I haven’t done any outlining on it yet. I’m not in a hurry on this one because the novel itself still needs a lot of work.

The Price we pay.

Sequel to Choices, taking place a few months after the first book ends. It will follow a different set of protagonists, because Sky and Selena’s story was resolved by the end of book 1, but the story of the Free Kingdom is only just beginning. But do not fear, Sky and Selena will still make an appearance, because they aren’t going anywhere.

I haven’t even started brainstorming this story yet. I have a vague idea where I want it to go and who my protagonists will be, but nothing beyond that. So I might get around to it in 2016, but 2017 would be more optimistic.



Of course, this list is not set in stone, because plot bunnies can attack me at any time and just not let go until I write them. This year I got Shadow Hunters and Ghost and the Good Doctor like that, seemingly out of nowhere, so who knows what next year brings me.