Update on outlining

Last April I wrote a report on David Farland’s “Million Dollar Outlines” and how I intended to apply it my own writing. Well, here I am, ten months later, to tell you how it went.  You may recall that I came up with a spreadsheet to help me track all my plot-lines and the relevant points and events in each. So, how did it go?

Two words: Over. Kill.

Let me make it clear this is in no way a reflection on David Farland’s book. My implementation of it, however, was just too much. I spent so much time fiddling with the plot lines that I really didn’t devote attention where it might have been better spent.

What’s more, I may have encountered what one of the speakers at LTUE warned against: If you put too much detail into your outline you may find when you go to write your novel that your subconscious tells you “Hey, I’ve already written this! What gives?!” I’ve certainly struggled more with staying enthusiastic about this book than any other I’ve written or re-written.

To be fair, there were more problems with the novel than just my outlining approach, and I refuse to blame my difficulties entirely on my approach. But I do believe I have now found the other end of the spectrum. For my own writing process I need to find somewhere in the middle between outlining and free-writing.  Planning too little isn’t good for me, but planning too much is no better.

There is no question, however, that I benefited from Farland’s book. Though I perhaps went too far with my outlining, I have a stronger understanding of my plot, and I have several sub-plots that will add depth to the novel. Farland’s book was a significant help in showing me how to fill in the gaps with which I had previously struggled. I still recommend it.

The key take-away here is that writing is an individual effort. There is no right or wrong way to write, just your way. Others can help you identify areas of improvement and give you ideas on how to shore up your weak spots, but you still have to find a way to make it work for you.

For me the answer is…well, I’m still finding out. But I will be creating less robust (ie. exhaustive) outlines in the future. It may take a little while to find the right balance between planning and improv in my writing but, like Edison, I have now successfully identified one more approach that doesn’t work.

Thom Stratton

About Thom Stratton

Thom is a Utah transplant, works for a regional bank, and spends his lunch hours working on his latest novel. His wife, three kids, and four pets find him amusing and somewhat useful, so they keep him around.


That's how I look at it--it was good practice. Until you get a good idea of how you write, and how that process may differ from project to project, you may as well try different things to see what works and what doesn't.

James Duckett
James Duckett

Outlining is my preference, but I'm still trying to find my perfect method. I suspect it will change with each project, but practice is helping me fine-tune the process.