Why You Should Write Your First Draft Before Outlining Your Novel



I often say I suffer from CRD—Chronic Rewriting Disease, a term I made up because it seems at least 50% of my work needs to be rewritten. But that’s my writing process, and I accept it. Sure, I could be like many writers and outline my novel from the start . . . but my brain doesn’t function that way. I’m a pantser, and that’s the way (uh-huh, uh-huh) I like it (uh-huh, uh-huh).

My secret is in outlining AFTER completing my first draft.

At first, I had some stressful moments, questioning my writing process. We all have to choose our methods, but inevitably we all reach a point where we wonder if what we’re doing is effective. So if you’ve reached this point and are interested in trying something new—even if you’re a hardcore pantser—I’m going to ask that you give this a shot. Pants away, but then use an outline (as loose as you want), and go for it. I use these handy SAVE THE CAT, SEVEN POINT STRUCTURE, & REVISING worksheets to help me reorganize my work. But here’s why you should try it, too:

1- The less you know before you start writing, the greater chance at discovering new possibilities

Personally, I feel constricted when I have an outline. Not everyone works this way, but because I’m OCD (ironically)—if I have the plot written a certain way—I feel I have to follow it through exactly as I planned. I have issues, I know. But when I just write to create, I uncover a wide array of potential outcomes.

Regardless, if there’s a deep range of prewriting, I question: how much of it is organic and how much is just a robotic translation of plots? And hey, it may be an amazing plot. But if—like me—you feel you shouldn’t deviate from your plans, I say create first, outline later.

2- Seeing the work can help you organize the structure.

Nothing helps you streamline your plot more than having all those extra pesky descriptions parade right in your face. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve rolled my eyes at the stupidity I’m capable of. But I can tell you seeing my mess makes me very motivated to quit sabotaging myself. And if you want the same, this will help you organize your thoughts and rearrange your ideas—old and new ones—to really frame out the plot and subplots of your story.

3- Your pace will thank you.

Whether you’re throwing a snoozefest or you’re zooming your readers through a car chase throughout the story, pacing is one of the few elements you can’t fully grasp until it’s all down on paper. Or screen.

Outlining your story after the first draft is written will help you develop your pacing and allow you to add smoother transitions. You’ll be able to integrate all storylines—underlying and major—into a solid draft. And this will make it a strong base for revisions.

4- You can detect plot holes.

Look, we all get sidetracked. Especially when we’re overly excited about torturing our characters. So having plot holes is perfectly normal. In fact, I’d say it’s expected. And if you don’t agree, you should really really lie to me. But anyway . . . that’s why it’s beneficial to use your first draft to restructure the story. You’ll be able to see the inconsistencies more clearly along with any contradictions you’ve so bravely written in.

It’s amazing the amount of damage we can do to our own genius. So thank goodness for revisions, eh? But truly, if you’re like me—and even if you’re not—hard work, passion, and dedication along with a few panic attacks and sweaty moments will get you to your final product. So go ahead! Use your first draft to help take care of all loose ends when you’re reorganizing the progression of scenes in your outline.

No really, go ahead. Right now. Go! 🙂


S. Katherine Anthony


Image courtesy of Pixabay.com

25 thoughts on “Why You Should Write Your First Draft Before Outlining Your Novel”

  1. This is such an awesome post. Many writers recommend outlining first, I suspect to write faster, but I think your advice, of waiting to outline until after the first draft is written, is on point.

    Liked by 1 person

      1. My absolute pleasure! Your suggestion or writing a first draft before outlining is an excellent suggestion for memoir writers because they don’t usually know what their story is until they’re written the first draft. Thanks again.

        Liked by 1 person

  2. I advise writers to do whatever works, but I do think not outlining carries a lot of risks. I’ve tried doing a first draft with a minimal outline and find I end up writing myself into a corner and have to waste a lot of time backtracking. I’d suggest at the very least have a firm grasp on your main character and the theme you’d like to explore.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I absolutely agree! Going in fully blind is a wreck waiting to happen lol But we all work differently and this process—with my main events, thought-out characters, and overall storyline—has been great for me. Freewriting is sometimes needed to make sure you get the ink pumping again and sometimes what comes out is fantastic and inspiring! Thanks for taking the time to read it! 🙂


  3. Funnily enough, this is exactly what I did with my current work in progress novel, The Aeon Academy (https://jedhernewriter.wordpress.com/the-aeon-academy/). I wrote the first draft with no planning or outlining. For the second draft I did a semi-detailed outline and re-wrote close to 90% of the story. For the third draft I only had to re-write maybe 50%, and with the fourth and fifth drafts I’ve had very little re-writing to do. At times I wish I’d outlined before the first draft (which I’ll be sure to do with future books) but I also enjoyed the organic evolution of my novel. Great, relatable article!


    1. It’s great to at least give new ways a try! And now you know that you rather outline. I usually do a lot of planning in my head so I avoid the 90% rewrite, but even so, it’s still organic and it works well for me. Thanks for commenting! 🙂

      Liked by 1 person

  4. That sounds like and interesting contrarian idea. Instead of getting so bogged down before you even start, you actually enjoy yourself for a while. It is easy to cut things you don’t need and save them for something else. Tha I suppose you can outline the holes before filling them in.


  5. This sounds very similar to what I’m doing, right now. It’s good to know that someone else is having success with the same process, because every time I think of outlining, my progress grinds to an abrupt halt, and all I see is the tedious trudge up the mountain. (Not that I don’t repeat that experiment now and then, in the name of a “faster” revision.)

    Liked by 1 person

      1. I have a friend I’ve worked with on previous books and she’s much more of a planner than I am – much better at it altogether. But I find that until I’ve written at least part way into a book I don’t have any idea who the characters are or what they’re capable of, or what the story’s really about. Once I’ve started the first draft the characters seem to get come alive for themselves, something they won’t do if I’m forced to sit down and think who they are in advance. That method has never made sense to me. But giving them dialogue and action makes them do some of the work (as it were). After that I know enough about them to know that even if I have to change things umpteen times, the characters will keep on being themselves and won’t be at the mercy of some preplanned scheme.


    1. I’m glad I’m not the only one too LOL
      Best of luck with your project, now that you’ve been “liberated” lol, I hope you kick some butt getting it done! 😉


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