Writing ‘From the Hip’ Versus ‘Outline’

So I’ve officially tried both methods of writing. First let’s define them:

From-the-Hip: A global approach. Writing as you go, no solid plot needs to be formed.

Outline: An analytical approach. Outline the plot steps before writing. Have the beginning, middle and end determined. The writing just connects the dots.

So how was my experience? My first novel was from-the-hip. I just wrote as ideas came and ran off with them. Indeed this was the most fun way to write by far. I felt limitless and the story just grew and expanded from there. But it came with its downsides. I found it increasingly difficult to keep story-facts straight in my head. I constantly referred back to a master notebook of important details that could easily be forgotten. And the biggest issue was that when I actually felt like I had reached the finish line, my book was at 180,000 words! I realized later that this was just too large for a debut novel, and since then I have split it up into two separate novels. It was actually not that hard to do, at around 107,000 words the story has a natural break between plot lines with a satisfying conclusion, but still a hook for the rest of the story. Even 107,000 is far too long for a debut, so I have some trimming to do.

My second novel is through an outline. I already had the full plot ready to go on paper before I started any actual storytelling. Albeit, not as much fun but definitely much more organized. The problem was though, I estimated the word counts I would need for each bullet point and I was wildly off. My manuscript has finished now at around 56,000 words, 14,000 short of my 70,000 minimum target. Now I am in the process of adding sub-plot lines to beef up the story. I reached the finish too quickly, and I don’t want it to feel like a blur for the reader. I need to guide them from one action point to the other, but with an outline I already knew where the story was supposed to go. So I sped off in that direction without looking back. The writing itself is fine, but, it’s just too fast! I realize if I have an outline in front of me I lose a leisurely part of my writing that adds the smaller details a reader is going to want to see. So now I have to go back and fill those in.

That’s my experience so far, I still haven’t decided which style completely works for me. Both had some important strong suits. I think the better question is which style provides me with the best writing? I think maybe the second, I just really need to work on slowing it down.


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