I’ve spent most of my career as a sportswriter for magazines and, later, blogs. While there was some advanced planning involved if I was writing a longer feature, most of the time I had to react on the fly to what was happening at events or games and to write about it quickly.
That was relevant when I sat down to write The Accidental Quarterback – I had one scene in mind that I just needed to put on paper (fun fact: It turned out to be the final chapter of the book, not the first!) right away. After that? I wrote the rest of the book from what I envisioned in my brain. I always saw the novel cinematically, as scenes in a movie inside my head that I would convert into chapters.
But when I wrote myself into a corner or had no idea what to do next? That’s where an outline really could have come in handy. It took me weeks to dig myself out or to find a solution.
And that’s the big lesson here: Plan ahead! You’ll save time and mental energy if you work your plot out ahead of time. There’s also just something about seeing words on paper after you’ve rolled your ideas around in your mind for months. Maybe that chapter you had in mind that went off in a weird direction suddenly looks out of place in the context of your outline. It’s a lesson I only learned after finishing the second book of the Weirdo Academy series, The Impossible Pitcher.
If you like the thrill of flying by the seat of your pants, by all means, go for it. But I wish I’d known to plan my books before I wrote a single word of them.