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5 Mindset Tips for outlining your first book...or second

When it comes to changing your mindset about outlining your first book some tips would include, finding what works best for you, being flexible, keeping old ideas, being patient, and leaving room for extra creativity.


Is outlining absolutely, positively necessary to write a great story?

Some say yes, and alternatively, some say no. It’s so hard to sift through all of the “to outline or not to outline” arguments.

The more information I read on supporting outlining, there is just as much support with the opposite viewpoint.

We are definitely a writing world at odds…maybe not so much at odds, but very different viewpoints about the topic of outlining.

I will say for me, outlining has become pretty important in my writing process.

At one time, writing was something I did when the time felt right. This wasn’t a habit or a process.

And there was no structure to my process. Just writing some words that worked well together.

A couple of years ago, I challenged myself to outline a Christmas book during Nanowrimo. When I accepted the challenge, I found that outlining was an important step that was missing from my writing practice.

Creativity had always been part of my life.

But when I had ideas I would just write them in a notebook or an app. Sometimes, I would record them if I was somewhere that I couldn’t write them down.

It was just an extended form of brainstorming.

Of course, I knew how to outline. That was a skill from way back in the day. It was just something we learned to do in school. Who actually needs what they learn in school, right?

Apparently, this English and creative writing loving student – talking about me, here – needed to get back to her roots and figure out what all that instruction would mean in the present day.

With that in mind…and the Nanowrimo adventure I was about to take – also, the fact that I had just read “Save the Cat!” and “Save the Cat! Writes A Novel: The Last Book on Novel Writing You’ll Ever Need”, all just renewed something in me.

They pushed me to the point of figuring out how I was going to use outlining in my writing practice.

That one choice to add outlining to my writing process has made quite a difference in my writing.

One thing that stands out is that I don’t have writer’s block, as often. I also write faster and more often.

In the spirit of sharing is caring, I want to give you 5 tips on how changing your mindset about outlining your writing can make you a more productive writer.


When it comes to outlining, you have to use the method that works best for you.

There are so many different ways to outline…So many!

Of course you may need to try several to find what you like. At some point you will find one that works just for what you need.

I suggest you try as quickly as you can to find what works best for you. The least options, the least frustration and more focus.

You may find that one style of outlining works for one set of writings and another style works best for another. Just make it work for you!


I’ve been using “Save the Cat” for my current books. (I found these books after I wrote my first series.)

If I had known about the beats of a story, I probably – actually, I’m sure I would have finished those books much faster.

As I develop new series sets, these books are coming in handy in helping me plot my stories.

The use of beats in a story helps with creating an outline. These beats aren’t only for general story writing. The writers have created beats for any genre you can think of, but they have categorized the genres in their own way.

Their categories are interesting. Seeing what stories go together in their genre formula is enlightening.

These genre outlines are easy to follow and to return to over and over again.

I included “A Christmas Carol’s” novel beat sheet from the “Save the Cat” website. You can find it here.

This story should be familiar enough for people to recognize and see how the beats work.

Also on their website there is a comparison of The Hunger Games book and movie. You can find that here.

“Save the Cat” is what works best for me. For now, the beats are what help me with fiction and nonfiction.


You can also use Freytag’s Pyramid or what is also called the plot diagram. You know the one we used in school when we learned about story structure.

These days they look like a roller coaster or a mountain.

Every story should have ups and downs. You can’t just take the reader all the way to the top of the mountain and then drop them.

We need to give them some room to gradually increase and even add some twists and turns. In some cases we may have to save them from just falling off the edge of that mountain with another twist.

You can also use mind maps and storyboards. Even using a set of index cards is a simple outline trick that could work. It’s up to you!

The outline is your time to be creative. Have fun with it!

Guess what…it can be as long or as short as you want it to be. Some people write 20 pages for their outlines. Some write more.

I like the 16 beats. They give me a good start on the story or series that I want to create.


Your outline can change as the story develops. We change, why wouldn’t our characters?

They are supposed to represent reality.

If you find you story changing, it’s okay. Be flexible.

You could be going in one direction and end up going in a completely opposite direction later on.

You may decide to show some characters the door or some settings may need to be changed.

Don’t let the thought of something not being on your outline stop your creativity.

I’m a true believer that ideas expand. What I mean is, we can have an idea today and read it tomorrow or in a week from now and find that we want to add to it.

When I was a teacher, we had students read the same text multiple times because they may have missed something the first time.

Also, because ideas expand. With each read there is deeper meaning. That is the case with writing too.

Deeper meaning comes when we revisit our writing more than once. Give yourself some room to create.

Sometimes you may have to go with the flow. This is when writing really gets fun.

Go with it!

Just a suggestion, add a note about new ideas on your outline. That way if you have to come back to it, you will be able to expand the idea. Creativity is a process.

But this is your process. You decide when to stick with the script and when to try something new.

I have several versions of each of my books. I didn’t do it that way on purpose, but when my mind was going a different way, I wanted to see which story I would like the best.

So, don’t get rid of your old stuff. Keep that too. You want to keep it all in one place so that you can still have an idea of where you want to go…and just in case you get too far off track, you can pull yourself back into your story.


Don’t get rid of your old ideas, if the outline changes, add to it. Keep your ideas and just add to your first outline.

Like I said before. You want to have ideas that you can come back to, as well as ideas that may lead you to something new.

You can highlight different versions in different colors to see what changes.

Some people feel that you should write your outline and not stray from it.

That may work best for them, because they may be great at outlining.

Really if you stick to the outline, “just because” that causes you to stick to something you may not like in the end.

My way may be more work, but you have options and you can decide on what to use when you’re ready to edit.

Even when you write your first draft it’s going to be pretty messy.

If you spend all of your time “sticking” to the outline you may come out with something that’s boring and you may not even like it.

Take a chance and let your mind explore. Of course, you want to make sure that you’re staying with the theme of your story.

You don’t want to go too far away from your outline, then what would be the point of outlining?

Just don’t box yourself in. Allow for some flexibility.


And I repeat…be patient with yourself.

Whether you’re new or you’ve been doing this forever.

This creative journey should be fun. Yes, you want to make some money, but you won’t get anything done by beating yourself up whenever a scene doesn’t work out.

Just getting that outline finished should be a reason for celebration.

You’re accomplishing something some people won’t even attempt. Trust yourself.

Stay focused. If you keep working at it, it will work out.

Frustration may stand by and harass you.

When that happens, take a break.

Come back to it later or tomorrow…or maybe you just need to get up and walk for about 10 minutes (like I just did).

Guess what, you get exercise and you have a chance to let the issue work itself out while you walk.

Don’t let frustration stop you from doing what you know you can do.

This is just one moment in time. You can come back to your writing if you are patient with yourself.

I’ve learned from watching many students that frustration can stop us from doing what we enjoy and are passionate about.

You know what? I learned that from my own real life endeavors too.

Just be patient with yourself.


By now this has been repeated quite a bit, but the point of the outline is to keep you organized.

Now that you have some organization to your writing, leave room to write out of order.

This is my favorite! Me being a former “pantser” knows that doesn’t just go away.

There are times when I can see into the future of my story and the lives of my characters, and I know there is a scene that will happen.

If I just say, “No, I’m going by the outline.” I may lose that idea.

I don’t want to do that. When there is a point of time where I can stop and write the scene, it doesn’t disturb anyone.

Who’s the writer here? This is my story. This is your story.

We decide what we’ll write. So, I’m going to write the scene.

Writing that scene could even help me with scenes when I go back to following the outline.

It also makes me joyful to do things just a little bit out of order.

I always make room for future scenes.

You should do that too. Well, if you want to.

What I do is either type it on another page, or have a section in Scrivener (what I use for writing) or Evernote (what I also use for ideas).

All you have to do is create a section for extra scenes, and write the scenes there.

When I’m ready to add them to the story, those scenes are eagerly waiting for me to pick them up and drop them in their designated place in the story, leaving room for extra scenes takes the headache out of trying to remember later.

It can also help in the part of the story you are writing now. Maybe you can find a way to hint at what’s to come.


The tips I just shared are a permanent part of my writing practice.

Even though I outline my stories, I still have to acknowledge the “patnser” in me.

If I don’t I’ll become a frustrated writer. Who wants to be a frustrated writer?

Not me.

I have to find what works best for me. When I do, it makes the writing process easier.

Remember to find what works best for you too. Flexibility is necessary for me. Writing doesn’t have to be “by the rules”.

Besides, there are so many rules, which ones do you follow?

Keep the old Ideas when adding new ones.

You never know which ones you’re going to like best.

It would be better to have the old ideas than try to figure out what you were writing before.

Remember that ideas expand.

You may find that those new ideas are just as important as the old ideas.

Be patient with yourself. Beating yourself up about mistakes only creates frustration.

Give yourself a break and keep working. Leave room for future events in the story.

Create a special place for them and you won’t have to try to figure out what you wanted to write about later.

I hope these tips are helpful to you.

Let’s chat about them in the comments.

I look forward to hearing from you.


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