Write a Novel Without an Outline: A Six Step Guide

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This is for all you pantsers out there. Those who scoff at plans and outlines in favor of the more primal rush of spontaneity. Strap on your seatbelt, kids. This is a detailed guide to completing a novel without an outline. I call it: The Scene Method.

The steps are straightforward and easy to follow. After your first novel or two, you’ll be better able to craft non-linear novels using this method if you’d like. It’s okay if your first novel feels too direct in its arc; you’ll have plenty of time to change things up after the initial drafts. There’s no fear here. Only scenes.

All right, here we go.

Step 1: The Realm of Endless Possibility

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(Please see my About page for answers on my wildly random photos)

This is the glorious span of time when you’ve got an idea percolating throughout your brain. It’s new. It’s shiny. It’s the novel everyone needs to read, and you’ve been graced with the idea to write it.

Slow your roll. The gestation period of a story is much longer than the gestation period of a human being. Expect to spend years on this step. Years.

If this is your first attempt at novel writing, you’ll probably start writing prematurely since you don’t have any other stories to distract you. It’s time for discipline; start with short stories, flash fiction, essays, and blog posts while your novel gestates. You probably won’t listen to me (I didn’t), but your novel will more than likely suffer if you don’t. My first novel was an underdeveloped chaotic journey through the forest of boredom because I wrote it too soon.

Give the idea time to grow. Start a document on your computer and write down every good thought that comes to you, but don’t attempt a draft yet. You can’t force a book to be born. You’ve got to let it grow back there in the most fertilized part of your brain. No matter how long you wait, it’ll never be as good on paper as it is in your mind (facts of life), so let it spend as much time as possible back there. Let yourself fall in love with it as an entity, not just as an idea.

Eventually, a character, setting, or plot point will complete its metamorphosis from idea to tangible story. It’ll rage around in your brain and claw it’s way into your everyday life. You’ll no longer be the star of your own dreams; your protagonist and their friends will occupy your every waking and sleeping moment. You will cease to be just one person. Your story will exist all around you. You’ll walk around as if your life is their life. Your friends will think you’re insane. You are. Start writing.

You are now ready for the first draft.

Step 2: The First Draft*

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The First Time I Heard an Alessia Cara Song Was At Her Own Concert

I had never been one those people that goes to concerts just to see the opening act. Maybe I’m not musically hip enough since my tastes tend towards already established artists. Right after I moved to Boston though, my dad wanted to surprise me with a congratulations-good-luck-in-the-real-world present. He asked if there were any concerts I really wanted to go to and I said, “not really.” (Okay, wow. Apparently I’m not musically hip at all. I’m also 190 years old, so please forgive my use of the word ‘hip’).

Alessia Cara Flowers.jpgAnyway, I told him Ruth B was the only artist I was super into right now. In fact, when I moved to Boston, I listened to Ruth B’s Golden on repeat for the entire length of my plane ride and much of the time spent in the airport. Just that one song. As someone who was moving out of the Midwest for the first time in my life in pursuit of an impossible dream, that song keeps me from crumpling under the weight of the odds. (I’m trying to be a writer by the way, in case you’re lost). I also knew though, that Ruth B had only released an EP with 4 songs, so she probably wasn’t touring.

In September, my dad surprised me with two tickets to see Alessia Cara perform at the Orpheum Theatre in Boston. I had never heard of Alessia Cara but Ruth B was her opener. I was giddy. (Side note: My dad was probably hoping I’d have made friends by the time the concert rolled around in October so I could use the second ticket, but I’m not the kind of person who asks random strangers to concerts. I knew my neighbors, a couple vague work acquaintances, and some pretty cool people I’d met in a writing club, but no one I knew well enough to take to a concert. [Introvert Insight: when we are really excited about something, we often enjoy doing that activity alone. There’s way less pressure.] I didn’t want to have to make small talk, or pretend to be only casually interested in the concert.) So on the night of the concert, I went to the Orpheum alone.

How Introverts Go To Concerts

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Cambridge Parkway Along the Charles River

So I was walking along the Charles River, thinking about how I’d like to be a mermaid—a river-maid—and taking photos for a piece I was writing, when THREE different people came up to ask for directions. One guy even asked if I could point out some historical landmarks. I had literally never looked so touristy and yet they still thought I looked like I knew what I was doing.

I’m a city person apparently. I just never knew it. Click here to read more!



View From Longfellow Bridge