When I first started writing, I tried to outline a novel. I didn’t get very far. I knew a few things that happened but couldn’t figure out how they connected. So I gave up for a few years, and when I started again, I wrote a novel without planning more than a chapter or two ahead–and with a vague idea of how it would end–and ended up with a complete draft that was an unholy mess. Then I did it again, and again. Somewhere in there I tried another outline, with no more success than the first one. It felt like I was just making stuff up, without the sense of “yes, this is what happens” that would come when I only planned a chapter ahead.
But this frustrated me. It led to a lot of rewriting–I’ve still never looked at those second and third books–and seemed incredibly inefficient. Other people outline, so I knew it must be possible, but I didn’t know how.
Around then I was a member of the Forward Motion writing forum, and Lazette Gifford was about to start up that year’s Two-Year Novel Course. Figuring it couldn’t hurt, I signed up. There was only one lesson a week, so I worked it in around my primary project. By the end, I had a much better idea of how to plan a book. (It also helped that by then I’d written three or four and had realized what sorts of things I had to think about in advance.)
To be honest, I don’t think it had occurred to me to do lots of work before the outline. I’d tried worldbuilding checklists and character sheets and they always seemed silly–or like I was just making stuff up to fill in a form. Gifford’s process worked much better for me. I still got stuck when it came time to make the actual plot outline, but I’d done enough other work on the book that I was able to eventually figure out a plot.
I highly recommend this course for anyone who wants to plan but is stymied by the process, or who has never written a novel and doesn’t know where to begin. It’s online, it’s free, and it doesn’t take a lot of time. Signups for the 2013-2014 class are open now.