I have wanted to write a novel for the past three years. I have read books on writing and taken online courses. Some of that material recommended not using an outline to write a book, and some recommended using an outline initially. No matter which way I have chosen to proceed, I have felt guilty about about my choice a little ways in to the process. Then, my perfectionist tendencies shut me down.

Just this past week, however, I decided that I was going to do what feels right to me and get to work! I discovered my own personal method involves writing without an outline, and then creating an outline when I am done to generate the next revision. And it has gone well! I've written a few pages! To this end, I found this article on the Internet: https://grubstreet.org/grub-daily/to-outline-or-not-to-outline/. Is there, in fact, a hybrid method to writing a novel that involves both pantsing (writing by the seat of ones pants) and plotting?

  • 2
    Hi user9885, this is a great topic, but Stack Exchange does require clear and answerable questions rather than invitations to open-ended discussion. Perhaps you could edit your question into something more direct, e.g, 'is there a successful hybrid method between 'plotting' and 'pantsing' (writing by the seat of your pants)? I'm sure intersting answers will follow.
    – mwo
    Mar 12, 2016 at 11:07
  • Hi mwo, I changed the title and body of the question per your request.
    – user9885
    Mar 12, 2016 at 17:49

3 Answers 3


I think you'll find there's no one "correct" way (or two ways, or three, or ten).

Everybody figures out what works for them. There are many ways to balance between outlining and improvising, including:

  • Writing an outline as a starting point, then feeling free to diverge from it, to the point that the final product bears no resemblance to the outline.
  • Pantsing the whole thing, treating that as a rough first draft, and then writing an outline that's clear and well-structured in advance of your next draft.
  • Writing an outline that's full of holes and gaps, to be pantsed in during the process (e.g.: "[Something devastating] happens to main character here, and she leaves the agency! She's also growing increasingly intrigued by Jack, after she spots him [doing something suspicious; figure this out once I know who Jack's actually working for]")
  • Writing an outline for the primary plotline, but establishing multiple side-plots without any outlining.
  • Switching back and forth from outlining to writing; whenever you feel like you're veering away from the outline, you go and change the outline to account for the changes you want.

The point is this An outline is a tool. It's a tool that gives you some sense of where you're headed; that lets you look at your story at a macro level. Knowing where your headed is particularly powerful because it makes your writing more purposeful; it gives you very specific goals to move towards; it gives you grounding in details the "reader" doesn't yet know.

But it's not always the right tool for the job. If you're feeling like the story doesn't interest you, then knowing exactly what the end is going to be might not be the right tool. If you're focused on making the story energetic and exciting, then focusing on moving the story along to the next plot point is not helpful. If you have no idea where you're headed, then striking out in some random, enticing direction may be much more helpful than trying to plan your entire route before you've taken a single step.

There is no problem at all with mixing between the two. Every author does, finding the mix that works for them (which may well be different from project to project.)

At every point, you just need to figure out what you need next. If you need firmer grounding and clear direction, go outline. If you need to sit down and get some words on the page, or to play around with some of your characters, go write. If you have no idea, pick one, see if it works; if it doesn't, go do the other.

With time, you'll find your rhythm, your preferences, the way you're most happy using your toolbox.


Almost everybody does that.

For each person and each WIP there is an optimum mix of how detailed to plot first and how much to wing it as you do the writing.

Too many people try to be, or claim to be, 100% pantsers. This is a mistake IMHO. Even Stephen King, who pantsers always point to as justification, has some idea of the story before he starts, and he has the experience to do it that way.

For beginners, the best approach is to start at the heavy end of plotting and only move towards more pantsing as you gain experience.

  • But some people who try to plot heavily when it's not their style end up never writing at all... Nov 3, 2020 at 23:17

Maybe The Snowflake Method

It sells itself as between full outline and pantsing writing, and I mean that literally. The author has multiple books showing you how to use his method.

The idea is you start with a one-sentence summary and then build that to a paragraph, then a full page, and so on. Every step of the way you can change and discard stuff that doesn't work before getting to a 100+ page book.

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