I love the creativity of the first draft of a story.
Even when I switched from writing by the seat of my pants (pantsing) to planning out my books (planning), I still found a wealth of creativity in the first draft of a story I had already outlined chapter by chapter (see this article for more on that process).
I’ve heard a lot of writers say that they don’t outline because they don’t want to feel stifled in the first draft–that they don’t want to lose the creativity. That is completely understandable, of course. Every writer has their own methods for getting words on the page.
One thing I’ve learned about myself over the years is that I don’t get stifled by an outline. In fact, having that structure to guide my writing sessions actually opens up my imagination in new ways that pantsing never did.
Knowing where the story is headed helps me feel free to explore the options within any given chapter. Most of the time, the exploration simply fleshes out the points in the outline. But there are times when things veer dramatically away from the plan.
Do I panic when that happens?
Instead, I run with whatever idea is taking off.
Yes, this likely means a rework of the outline to some degree. It could mean that I scrap the remaining points on the outline altogether. In such a case, I usually run with the idea for a day or two and then take 1-2 days off of drafting to rework the outline to come up with a new plan to follow to complete the draft.
During the drafting of The Cottage on the Hill, my newest release, which is part of the Springtime in Surrey anthology, creativity was the key to unlocking the story for me. Since Cottage featured a former ballerina as well as a sheep farmer with a gift for entertaining in a Charlie Chaplin fashion, it was crucial for me to tap into my imagination during the first draft.
I did manage to stick to the allotted points in the outline for Cottage, but within each chapter, there was lots of creativity in what happened between the plot points. In fact, you never would have met spunky Mrs. Brown (who has a hankering for candies and dearly loves her children and great-grandchildren) if not for exploring the space between.
The scene in which Adrian entertains Moira with an umbrella and pretend mud was a vague “vaudeville act” in my outline. That sequence ended up being my second favorite (only to the exquisite finale) to write, and it was a complete blast to imagine and write.
While I knew of the sweet finale from the outline, the details to get Moira down a particular aisle were fun to play with. That was my favorite bit of creativity, giving her the most beautiful of finales, which her ballet-loving heart deserved.
Even if you think outlining will hamper your creativity, I challenge you to give it a try and keep an eye out for first draft creativity as you dive into the story and explore the places between plot points. You never know what your imagination will come up with in the midst of a structured plan.
I’ve discovered lots of gems using this method over the years. What diamonds in the rough will you uncover in your own writing?
Do you outline before writing the first draft? Why or why not?
What is your favorite thing about the first draft of a story?
How do you best use creativity in your life?
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