I am a discovery writer. I wrote more than 50% of my first novel's first draft.

I got really confuse about some aspects of writing, so I took a break and analysed my plot. I've started developing my world much better and made an outline for the remaining story. But once I finished it, I couldn't start writing the remaining portion. I feel like that I have already completed the task with the outline, so I'm struggling finding the will to write out the story.

How can I overcome this issue?

  • 9
    What is a discovery writer?
    – Mast
    Commented Nov 13, 2019 at 19:38
  • 2
    writing.stackexchange.com/questions/4027/… Commented Nov 14, 2019 at 6:55
  • I had this problem too.. I scrapped a story that I loved and put months of work in. It now sits in my archive as inspiration of my other stories. I have made too many plans too far ahead and it broke me up inside. Commented Nov 14, 2019 at 9:45
  • If it becomes obvious to you where your characters are going, maybe it'll obvious for them, too? Do they like the path there on? Now that they have some foresight, would they like to make any changes to their plans so they can achieve what they really want? This sort of feedback loop can make the future constantly surprising.
    – 16807
    Commented Nov 15, 2019 at 14:37

7 Answers 7


I am a discovery writer, I have been for many years, and I complete stories.

Scrap your outline.

Most discovery writers (including me) have struggled with what you are talking about; finding the climax, resolving the character arcs, dead-end "mysteries" that we could never figure out.

The solution to that is simple, but it is NOT outlining. For a discovery writer, outlining kills your characters. It turns them into machines that can't make decisions, and you feel you are forcing their emotions upon them.

I think you feel like you finished the story because you (as the author) have no more choice in how the story goes, your characters are no longer fluid, you are no longer excited to see what they will do, or what they will encounter. You have become a typist, instead of a story teller.

The solution to finishing books as a story teller is to have a logical conclusion for the story from the beginning. As an example, consider a film like Independence Day, which I did not write. The premise is aliens attack Earth, and we can't beat their tech. The final solution is we infect their systems with a computer virus, thereby defeating their tech, so our military can defeat them.

That is all a discovery writer should need to write the story, a main problem, and its solution. I do not consider this an outline, I consider it a direction to write in, and a provisional direction at that: If I think of a better ending, and I love it, I'll write toward that, even if I have to revise the book-so-far to some extent.

If while I am writing, my characters do something that would preclude that ending, I have to come up with a better ending right then, still consistent with what has happened, or within the realm of revision for what has happened. I don't want to rewrite ten chapters (although Stephen King, also a discovery writer, once scrapped something like a few hundred pages to save The Stand).

Revision is part of discovery writing, to create a coherent whole out of your wanderings. If character actions make the provisional ending illogical or dumb or impossible, then go back and find something else plausible for the characters to do that doesn't ruin the ending. Save a backup, in case you have lines you loved that might be re-used, but cut and start over. Or find a different ending that would work, a better ending, and revise what you need, throughout the book so far, so the better ending fits.

I do the same thing for a few other important "endings" in the book; I usually have a love story as a subplot in my books, a love story with an obstacle. I decide some provisional ending for that story too, a note on how their obstacle might be overcome, and they get together. If I introduce a mystery, I keep a note on how to solve it. I don't write any of the details, just a plausible notion of how it can be done; a direction to write in.

Scrap your outline. Put it aside, forget it, free your characters. Whatever you devised for the various endings, maybe keep them as notes, a direction to write in, but not too many of them.

Go back and let your characters be free, to make their choices in the moment like real people, to develop their plans on the fly, react and feel on the fly. Both villains and heroes. Let Jack be surprised when the present circumstances warrant surprise, don't try to force it on him. Where discovery writers shine is precisely that, what the characters do, say, think and feel seems organic and natural, it flows, because the writer has that moment in his head as he invents every line and action.

Sometimes I think of this as a football game; American version or European: The goal in every game is the same: You have to get from a starting point to the end of the field, against opposition. But the path to the goal is completely different every time. Different setbacks, mistakes and victories. No two games are ever the same.

Take your characters, and play a new game. Even if your final goal is the same, you don't have to get there exactly the same way as you outlined. Your outline found A story, one game. Screw up your outline with adversity, you can always add that: A fumbled ball is recovered by the opposition, a player falls and breaks an arm. It doesn't have to be a villain, it can be an environmental problem; a fire or storm or accident. A wild animal. They've run out of food and water. They encounter a mountain or river they can't cross, screwing up their timeline.

Kick your hero in the face and make yourself write a different game for them. Even if your note on how to resolve the main conflict stays exactly the same, let them react to different circumstances on the fly, make new plans. You need to give them new life so you are looking forward to seeing what they do when you sit down to write, and looking forward to figuring it out.


The only way to resolve it is to write.

I'm a discovery writer too. I get excitement from just "imagining" how things could go, how the world might be, and how the character should react. Did you notice? I used verbs in conditional form.

That's because - no matter what your brain tells you - a story isn't done until you write it. It doesn't matter if you outlined the next 50 scenes perfectly in your head: if you don't write, they didn't happen. So put aside your outline for a moment, decide what you should write next, and start typing. As you write, allow yourself to "discover" new things. Sure, you have everything planned out; but maybe as you are putting your ideas on paper you'll find better solutions.

A discovery writer needs, in my opinion, to treat every outline as a "vague guideline". Sure, you know what the ending might be, but you need to trust your insticts as you write and let it happen in a different way, if that what's feels right.


Your brain is convinced it's done with the first draft, which means it's time to start the second draft on the story cleaning up everything and filling up any missing details as needed. Which is a new task and one that you have to do regardless of how complete the first draft is. Yours just happens to be pretty barebones in the second half, but that's ok, each pass you make the novel more complete until it really is.


Try breaking your outline into chunks, and write small novelettes for them.

At the moment, you "feel like [you] have already completed the task" - you look at the skeleton in place, and think "that looks the right shape". There's nothing wrong with that.

But, if you look at the outline from a different angle, you have actually turned 1 task (write a story) into a dozen or more tasks. As Amadeus says, most Discovery Writers work best with "this is where we start, this is where we are aiming to finish", with minimal "in between". So, turn each of the key points in your outline into both a start line and a target - take each bone or limb of your skeleton in isolation, and flesh it out.

If we take The Hobbit as an example:

As a (fairly densely-packed) bullet-point Outline:

• Bilbo (a hobbit) talks to Gandalf (a Wizard)
• Gandalf invites himself and some friends to dinner with Bilbo
• A dozen dwarves show up and insist on dinner
• The dwarves persuade Bilbo to join them on their journey
• Braving danger, they travel to Rivendell, and meet the Elves
• While in Rivendell, they learn clues for their quest
• Continuing their journey, they are kidnapped by Goblins
• While hiding from Goblins, Bilbo finds a magic ring
• Everyone escapes the Goblins
et cetera

(Depending on how detailed your outline is, the first 4 points might just be listed together as "Dwarves persuade Bilbo to join them on an adventure")

While you can look at that and see a story, you can also turn it into a series of 8 different snippets: The first novelette starts with "Bilbo is talking with a wizard", and then (after several paragraphs, or even chapters) ends with "the wizard makes an appointment for dinner". What they talk about, what history they share, even whether the meeting is cordial or strained - all of that is still waiting to be discovered. The next mini-story starts with "the wizard has made an appointment for dinner", and ends with "everyone arrives for dinner"...

Some of these chunks turn into larger or smaller stories, with twists you may not have seen in your outline (what danger do they brave on the journey to Rivendell? Apparently, trolls), some of the starting positions will move as the previous sections complete, and you will probably have to go back through and tie things together for flow later - very few authors can write one draft and call it finished - but you will, hopefully, no longer be seeing a "finished story".

  • I like this a lot since you can easily adjust storypoints, replace them, scrap them, and still have a story without wasting too much work. Commented Nov 14, 2019 at 9:47

There are two kinds of discovery, not one! I am a outliner, not a pantser. I am also a plot-driven, not a character-driven writer. I love outlining, but always the finished product has huge departures from the outline. What I outline is plot, with very little character work. The plot is my creativity set free to do what comes easily: creating worlds and puzzles and mysteries and then solving them.

I save the best part for the actual writing. What happens when I actually write the chatpers? Discovery. But if I already know the plot, what is there to discover?

Character. As I write, I discover the character of my heroes and villains. I find out who they are, what they want, and how they refuse to act the way my initial plot dictates, forcing small or large changes to the story.

I find that the dicovery of character is a greater mystery to me than the discovery of what happens next. Why? Because I am so bad at it! Because character development is my weak spot, discovering it, refining it and polishing it is the great challenge for me.

What is the result? Instead of "planned" people and spontaneous plots, I write of spontaneous people with plots that are part planned, and part an adaptation to the surprises I find in my characters. It all just works better, and it keeps me engaged at writing throughout the whole process. In fact, what used to be for me the "sagging middle" where I had the most problems continuing and keeping the story interesting, is now my favorite part of writing any book.

One example should suffice. I had a female cook on a wagon train in one scene, put there for the sole purpose of making the heroine jealous in one scene. Thedarra was a throwaway character. But then she started to grow on me. She refused to be killed off or sidelined. She grew into a real person, an important character who makes courageous choices and saves the day, which of course made the jealousy factor and conflict grow magnificently. Thedarra eventually became my favorite character in the whole story, but first I had to discover her.

If you can't see what there is left to discover in your own story, try to understand its people. It will be worth it.

  • 1
    This is also a good approach when certain events are out of the characters' control - such as environmental disasters, or a villain who rarely directly appears in the novel. These "fixed points" are then things the characters and story have to react to (or try and stop!). You don't just "discover" an earthquake or volcanic eruption - they have a habit of interrupting whatever else is trying to go on at the time. Commented Nov 14, 2019 at 8:28

Don't do it top-down, do it bottom-up.

Break your story into chunks of index cards.

Sort your cards in the order you felt most natural. Then put 95% of the index cards into a jar.

Congratulation, now you can work on the most significant 5% of your story. The index cards in the jar now only functions as a source of inspiration, you should not put it in your working draft ever again.

Extend the 5% the way you wanted, be creative, be bold, take risks, don't get trapped by your initial plan.

After you're quite satisfied with your extension. Take a look back at the notes in your jar, and reflect whether the new direction of the story is better.

After that, start the process again, break your working draft into chunks of index cards, but this time put 90% of it to a jar. Then extend the remaining 10%.

After that, start the process again, break your working draft into chunks of index cards, but this time put 85% of it to a jar. Then extend the remaining 15%.

Repeat the process until you don't need to put any notes to a jar anymore/you're very satisfied with the result.

  • this seems it wroth a try
    – Sangeetha
    Commented Nov 15, 2019 at 6:56

A change that I made that reawakened my interested and excitement about my story was to stop writing in linear, chronological order. I've been thinking about this current story for nearly a decade, so I already had a solid idea of the overall plotline. And I've been doing a lot more world-building and research than I usually do, so I knew a lot about the world and the characters. But now that I'm actually writing the book, I'm not just proceeding from start to finish. Instead, I'm writing the parts and scenes that are most compelling to me at any given moment. I don't know if I'll keep the scenes in this order at the end, or if I'll reorder them more chronologically, but what I do know is that I'm not writing any filler, or any dutiful scenes. It's all in there because it is compelling to me.

And in doing so, I'm not only keeping my enthusiasm high, I'm also discovering a endless number of things I didn't know at the start. One of the things I've learned is that even when knowing the overall arc, and having a concept of the characters, there is magic to be found in the small moments. I didn't know that one character hated the other, or that there were birds singing at dawn, or that the love interest was aging backwards. Those were all things I "discovered" while writing their scenes.

Very few people are 100% to an extreme. We are all discovery writers sometimes, and we all do some planning and plotting. It's good to be able to handle aspects of both --it gives you more range as a writer.

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