Outlining Queen, or how I discovered that I’m NOT a pantser

By Mayra CuevasI’ll admit it, when I began writing the first draft of my novel I was clueless. I’m still clueless to a certain extent, but less so after having survived the first draft.For two years before I started writing the first draft I carried around a pile of note cards with various thoughts on characters, plot and locations. Then in February of this year, I took an online course entitled Writing Young Adult Fiction. The course helped me organize those ideas into something that someone, somewhere would want to read someday.By the end of the course I was feeling so optimistic about the process that I took three days off of work to write.A few weeks earlier, author Ray Bradbury died. I read an article in the LA Times recounting how Bradbury had rented a typewriter in the basement of a library at UCLA for 10 cents an hour. He spent nine days going back and forth between the typewriter in the basement and combing through books in the library upstairs. As the story goes, $9.80 in dimes later he had written "The Fireman," the story that would serve as the basis for his novel "Fahrenheit 451."I didn't have a typewriter, but I had my trusty Macbook, the typewriter of my generation. And granted I wasn't in the basement of a library, but I was in my basement office, so that had to count for something. I mean, a basement is a basement.So with Bradbury's story in mind I set off on my three day adventure.Day One: I wrote everything that came to mind. I vomited words onto the page like I was renting my laptop and pressed for time.Day Two: Again, I wrote like a maniac but at about 3 p.m. I hit a wall the size of Mount Everest(Okay, I've never been to Everest, but I can swear that's how big it was). The wall was a blank page and a blinking cursor waiting impatiently for me to type something, anything, but nothing came. My ideas ran out without as much as leaving a note. The blank page and I had a staring contest but the blank page won.It was one of the most painful and humbling experiences of my life. It was the realization that I was clueless as to how to do this. In my mind I could see Bradbury looking at me from behind his typewriter with a pitiful expression telling me, "Sorry kid, sucks for you."When my boyfriend got home he found me crying on the couch, a pathetic ball of snot and tissues.But these are the times when he really shines. He sat next to me put his hand on my knee and said, "I was waiting for this moment." To which I sarcastically responded some version of “oh wise one what ever do you mean?” About ten years ago my boyfriend set off to write a screenplay based on events in World War I. He did research in London and wrote several drafts but somewhere along the way he stopped working on it. The screenplay and the research sat in a container in his office."One page at a time, you have to take it one page at a time," he said. And I understood how well this man knew me. Here I was trying to type my masterpiece in three days. A few words come to mind, delusional was at the top of that list. The next day I drove myself and my box of tissues to Barnes & Noble, where a very nice attendant directed me to the writer's reference section. I glued my butt to the floor and began pulling every book off the shelf that could explain to me how to write a novel. And alas, my prayers where answered. I was holding a copy of Larry Brooks' Story Engineering. It was love at first read. I realized I wasn't one of those writers who could sit with their laptop and spit out a novel with little planning, otherwise known as pantsers. I was an outliner and a planner, and whatever else you want to call it.Brooks' book had a step-by-step approach on how to plan your novel to get all the main points laid out before you started writing the first draft. I was in heaven. This was me, an outliner.I devoured Brooks’ book, taking notes as I went and writing down ideas to break down my story into manageable parts. After about a month of reading and outlining I ended up with four tabloid size pages, one for each of the four parts of my story. Each page had a list of 12 to 15 scenes with notes on characters, bits of dialogue, setting descriptions and plot points. I was so happy I made my boyfriend sit through a session of out loud outline reading. Fun times at our house.The result of my outlining experiment was a completed first draft in 54 days. Each day that I wrote I had an outlined scene to work on. I was no longer staring at a blank page. The ideas were flowing freely because I knew where I was coming from and where I was heading to, so all I had to do was to fill in the blanks. Through this process I was able to relax into a more creative mental space and find a deeper joy in my writing sessions.So if ever you find yourself having a pity party on the couch, remember “one page at a time,” or even better “one outlined page at a time.”Are you an outliner or a pantser? Tell us which and what works for you. Share your experience in the comments section below.