Novel Update #2 – With notes on my outlining process

I must confess, I hardly touched What Dreams for most of March, but then last week I had Spring Break and made excellent progress.

I’m at 3,902 words, and my outline board looks like this (mostly the same):

novel outline postits

 Cats sold separately.

This month, I…

* Continued to fine-tune my outline process. I still adore my outline board, and I’m using it the way another pantser might use a normal outline – to keep track of the major points I need to hit and the master plan for the story, and to store ideas and scenes in loose order. (I have no idea how many people use the term “pantser” but I’m totally tagging my posts with it now). When it comes time to do the next section, I aggregate some post-its, make a few more detailed ones, and get them in order.

The second step in the outline process is to type the post-its into the Word document in which I’m writing, and start linking them together with more notes. Then I delete the notes as I write the scenes. So, I have kind of a rolling outline ahead of me, it’s super easy to alter, and I can just glance down to see where I’m going instead of trying to re-decipher my outline board or getting distracted by events in the far future. Plus, it’s easy to add notes about each scene as I think of them. Here’s a screencap:

WD screencap

Click to enlarge.

Compare this to my friend and longtime writing partner Rose’s outlining process, and you may see a few conceptual similarities but a lot of practical differences. I think the key is to just do what makes sense to you. Don’t try to force yourself into someone else’s process if your brain doesn’t work like theirs, find something that actually organizes what you really have in your head.

This month I also…

* Came to terms with the fact that I write best first thing in the morning. It’s not that I’m a morning person, just that no one talks to me then and I don’t have anything else on my mind yet. I can’t get up early for exercise to save my life, but I’m instituting a page-a-day regime and I’ll get up early for it when necessary. It’s a good way to create time, and my pages are only 300-400 words each. Generally I can outline in bits and pieces at other times of the day or on weekends to get me through the week, and I can do fact-checking or research during any moments of down time.

* Made a major realization about the character dynamics. It turns out two of the central characters aren’t actually in love, when all this time I thought they were. It changes basically nothing about the story, just fixes an ending I already didn’t like. Super excited about this!

* Re-read The Masterplan by Scott Mills. It’s an awesome sci-fi graphic novel that I’ve loved for years, one of my tone inspirations for this novel, and featured on my Doctor Who reading list. You should read it. (Tone inspirations are really important to me and I have to read books similar to mine or what I’m writing comes out like something someone else has already done… Reading is part of how I contemplate my story.)

The Masterplan Scott Mills


Lastly, I’m transitioning to a new format for these updates that’ll hopefully be helpful for people besides just me… Each one should include a writing tip, the word count/outline board update, bulleted points of interest for the month, any SF- or writing-related supplemental reading from that month, and maybe a sneak peek/example excerpt/character sheet/something like that. Anything else you’d like to see from the process of writing a science fiction novel?

So, that’s my progress for March. How are your projects coming?

14 thoughts on “Novel Update #2 – With notes on my outlining process

  1. I’ve found In write best in the morning as well. I’ve started waking at 5am to work on both my book and my blog before work. You’re board is a great idea! I’ve found I work best with a notebook and pen (that’s write, I’ve started writing a book and it won’t exist on a computer until the first editing stage). I still use sticky notes, though. Those things are lifesavers. At least once every time I sit to write I’ll have a great idea for something later in the story. It’s so nice to just jot it down on a stick note and stick it in my notebook.


    1. I really like writing by hand, especially in the planning stages. I can make connections, draw arrows, tuck in little notes diagonally, and all that. It’s very free-flowing. To get the same flow for actual narrative I do have to type though. I can type about as fast as I think, but writing by hand I’ve forgotten what I was going to say by the time I finish the first half of the sentence! 😀 That’s pretty impressive though, to wrangle it all in a notebook.


  2. Very enjoyable post! I wish you luck with the continuation of your novel work!

    March was productive with my guest lecture, and the end of my upcoming book writing. I am now in the formatting stage, and only have one chapter and an half left to format before everything can be sent to my publisher (earlier than my November 1 deadline) for him to review. I’m excited about my writing plans for April too!


  3. I just workshopped the first few chapters of my novel a couple weeks ago. Currently revising that and forging ahead! My fiancee and I are taking a trip to New Orleans (setting of Through Babel) this summer so I can do more research 🙂 I’m so excited to follow you on your What Dreams adventure! Keep us updated 😀



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