outlining: roman numerals need not apply


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You sit down to write. The blank page stares up at you, or your cursor blinks back at you. You’re inspired though. An idea seized you by the shorthairs and you’re determined to write it. Maybe you’re able to scribble away for a while. A half hour. Maybe even an hour. But sooner or later,  it happens. You’ve written yourself into a corner, and you’re not sure how to get out of it.

Does this ever happen to you? If you’re a plotter, maybe not. But if you’re a pantser, like me, it might happen more often than you’d care to admit.

Pantsing vs. Plotting

So why not start plotting then? It will make writing so much easier, right? You’ll have your road map all ready, you’ll know the general direction the story needs to go, all you’ll need to do is fill in the details. Right? So what’s the big deal?

Again, if you’re like me, you’re probably thinking: Boooring. It sucks the excitement right out of writing. The joy of discovery? Gone. And besides: Outlining? Yech. I’d rather stab myself in the eye with a rusty fork. Too rigid. Too structured. My creativity can’t be hemmed in like that.

Enter K.M. Weiland

outlining your novel by k.m. weiland

That is, until I started reading K.M. Weiland’s tweets and posts about outlining. In particular, her post on reverse outlining  got me interested in her book, Outlining Your Novel. When I saw the Kindle version priced at only $2.99, I figured, “What’s a few bucks?” So I bought it. And read from cover to cover in less than a week.

Weiland freely admits that outlining doesn’t work for everybody. And that the trick to the writing process is discovering what works for you. But she makes a solid case for outlining — and she dispels many of the myths and misconceptions pantsers like me may have about outlining.

Roadblock to Outlining

The biggest roadblock to outlining for me has been the rigidity of it. Just the word “outlining” brings to mind nightmares from sixth grade: roman numerals, with nested letters and numbers trailing beneath in precise order. I, II, III, A, B, C, etc. How can you confine your creativity to such an inflexible structure?

According to Weiland, you don’t have to.

Outlines should encourage wild creativity, daring experimentation, and focused inspiration.

– K.M. Weiland

Weiland refers to your outline as a “mistake” draft, like your first draft, the very sort of thing encouraged during NaNoWriMo. A place to make those discoveries and brainstorm your way out of those corners before you write yourself into them.

It may be purely semantic, but I suggest not even thinking of it as “outlining” but as “pre-writing” instead.

Roman Numerals Need Not Apply

The process she describes is nothing like the outlining you learned in grade school. There is very little about it that is rigid and inflexible. In fact, I was shocked to discover that much of what she describes in her book is what I already do. You probably do it, too.

Have you ever gotten stuck and just started writing about being stuck? Maybe it looked something like this:

I don’t know what to write next. What if my MC did this? What if she did that, instead? Could this supporting character be involved? Oh! What if this happened? I know: MC should do this, then the villain will do that!

Congratulations. You’ve just outlined. No roman numerals needed.

Rather than doing this sort of writing as-needed in spurts along the way, Weiland lays out a process for doing all of this brainstorming beforehand. She suggests a structure in which to do the brainstorming, but even that structure is flexible and fluid.


I don’t intend to follow Weiland’s process exactly, and I don’t think she wants you to do that either. Your writing process is uniquely yours, and she seems to understand this. Your process may evolve over time, changing through the years or even changing with every new project you start. The trick, always, is finding what works for you. But her take on outlining has changed my view of it.

Whether you’re a pantser or a plotter, I highly recommend this book. If you ever find yourself getting stuck as a writer, I’m certain you’ll find something useful in Weiland’s tips. Even if you walk away convinced you’re still a pantser.   I plan to incorporate some of her tips into my process and to experiment with others, but part of me will always be a pantser.

I got well over my three dollars’ worth out of Weiland’s book and I’m convinced that you will find something that works for you in it as well. If you don’t want to risk more than three dollars but you don’t own a Kindle, you can still buy the Kindle version and download a free app from Amazon to read it on.

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3 Responses to outlining: roman numerals need not apply

  1. Hey, Kim!

    I’m sort of a platter… or a plantser. Sometimes I try (and fail) to outline and end up scrapping it, sometimes I outline a little of the story. What’s working for me now is writing as much as I can, and if I get stuck, I do the sort of outlining that you mentioned :)

    Is there a way to follow your blog through Blogger? *goes to investiage*

  2. I’ll check into that, too. Thanks, Beth!

  3. Okay — I think I’ve got it figured out. You should be able to follow me on blogger here:


    I usually post on Mondays by 10 Central time. I’ll try to remember to check the blogger page, but feel free to let me know if you don’t see it there. I might be able to post something sooner as a test, too.