Karen Wiesner on the Novel Outline Process

Karen Wiesner, author of First Draft in 30 Days (which I'm currently using to outline a novel), got in touch weighing in on the process and addressing some of the comments I made about certain aspects just not "being me." I wanted to go ahead and share those with you here, so you can have a bit more background on the process and adapting it to your own needs.

"The whole point of FIRST DRAFT IN 30 DAYS is to find out how you work best. And you seem to be discovering that early. CONGRATULATIONS!

First, your outline is for your own use. What do you need (and need to do) to make the story vivid in your mind?

Take as long as you need on all the worksheets and sketches. However, if you can’t seem to finish them, move on to something another step in the process. Try to continue progressing always. If you stall, work on another step. The more you work out, the clearer your story will be, and you will be able to fill in the last holes on those worksheets and sketches. And, if the worksheets don’t work for you and you prefer to just do free-form summaries, or even just work it all out in your formatted outline, you’re free to do what works best for you. Many of the worksheets are provided to give you help in pin-pointing problem areas. If you're not having a problem in a certain area, you might want to skip certain worksheets and only use them if you're running into problems. If you’re spending too much time on something that doesn’t seem to progress the story, move on to another step. You’re layering with all of this, building on what you’ve come up with, trying to develop it into something bigger and something that bonds.

I want to stress that you should avoid redundancy in this writing system. The point is to have a clear picture of your characters (internal conflicts and goals and motivations), settings and plot conflicts. If you find yourself re-doing a lot of aspects from the worksheets, or coming up with information you just don’t need, avoid it. Just do what you need to do. Everything you find in FIRST DRAFT is designed to stimulate you to work through each step in order to come put with a detailed, scene-by-scene outline. The entire goal of the system is to make sure you have everything you need to write instinctively. When you sit down to write the first draft, you should be able to start writing immediately because it’s all there in your outline, scene by scene.

I have a lot of experience writing books after having 50 of them published, with 17 more on the way, so I write instinctively. I immediately jump into writing the formatted outline. I don’t do sketches anymore because I can get a clear picture of everything during the course of my outlining. Only if I have problems do I go back and do the pre-writing aspects (i.e., fill out worksheets) of the system.

If you don’t feel like any of this is instinctive for you yet, go through the steps as I’ve set them down. But if you eventually get to the point where you don’t need anything but the formatted outline...well, that is the goal of this writing method. Only do what you need to to get that clear picture of the story, scene by scene. You’re doing great, Jenn! Keep on."

Profile image for Jennifer Mattern

Jennifer Mattern is a professional blogger, freelance business writer, consultant, and indie author. She runs numerous websites & blogs including All Freelance Writing, Freelance Writing Pros, NakedPR, and Kiss My Biz.

Jenn has 25 years' experience as a professional writer and editor and over 20 years' experience in marketing and PR (working heavily in digital PR, online marketing, social media, SEO, new media, and thought leadership publication). She also has 19 years' professional blogging and web publishing experience (including web development) and around 18 years of experience as an indie author / publisher.

Jenn also writes fiction under multiple pen names and is an Active member of the Horror Writers Association.

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1 thought on “Karen Wiesner on the Novel Outline Process”

  1. Hi Jenn,

    Fun blog. I’ve been using Karen’s book to turbo-charge my writing. I wanted to learn to work faster , leaner and meaner (ha! Just kidding. Faster and leaner suits me just fine.) I am still discovering how much I am capable of as a writer, and with Karen’s track record, I figured it was worth experimenting with her method. Well, I love it.
    I’ve already discovered my favorite worksheets are numbers 17-18, and, like Karen, I may use only these for now on unless I NEED to go back to some of the earlier ones.

    When I found myself editing a worksheet instead of the manuscript, I knew it was starting to click for me. I have too many books in my head and in my files to wait years to finish them all, so this system helps me keep moving ahead.
    Thank you for sharing your novel journey, and thank YOU, Karen!


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