Tools for Discovery Writing: The Post Draft Outline

For many discovery writers, outlines are incompatible if not utterly inconvenient devices used by the cult called ‘outliners’ who plot out every inch of their story before taking pen to page. Discovery writing moves in the opposite direction. We feel our stories are alive, and we want to give them room to grow as we act out the story in our imagination. The discovery writer serves as a transcriber. They witness the story unfolding in their minds, and their fingers simply need to keep up and capture all the threads of plot before they fade into memory.

Outliners may say that pantsers (I prefer discovery writer, it’s far more dignified) are beyond reproach. That structure and character fall by the wayside as they improvise their way through a story. Unfortunately, the criticism of discovery writers often holds true. The structure of discovery writing often falls short of the planned precision an outliner can achieve in the first draft. But that’s a first draft advantage only. As a dedicated discovery writer, I found a technique that really helps add structure to the later drafts. It’s called the post draft outline.

Discovery writers across the internet rise in their chairs, spilling coffee over their desks, and write curses in the mess aimed in my direction as they read this. What?! Outline and discovery writing are incompatible!! I agree, but only to a certain extent. The discovery writer avoids doing an outline before they compose the first draft because it difuses the creative dynamite. Outlining the story makes us feel it’s already told, that it’s boring, it becomes formulaic, and worst of all, it robs us of the magic. The sorcery of feeling like you’re telling a story to yourself as you write it. That feeling rises to among the best in existence right alongside a cold glass of wine on a hot day, or a hot cup of coffee on a slow morning. With the post draft outline technique you won’t be ruining the creative process by outlining too early, because you write the outline after the draft is completed.

You finish your story and you’re trying to figure out what needs work. Major revisions are probable, they’re a constant for the discovery writer, and you want to know where to focus. Here’s what you do. Read through your story and divide it into chapters. For every chapter, try to condense what happens into bulletpoints. At the end, you’ll have an outline of events based on every chapter of your book. It looks like this:

Post Draft Outline

You can see Chapter 3 has some very weak plot points. When I did the post draft outline I saw Chapter 3’s weaknesses, and I also saw what chapters were working. You get a very strong overall sense of your story and how the plot points flow. Having every major plot point in one document really expedites the editing process.

In other words, the post draft outline is an editing tool, not a composition tool. Discovery writers need no assistance in composition. The act of writing fresh and new words provides excitement and pleasure but editing the mess afterwards can be a problem.

This technique has been an enormous boon to my editing process and I can’t wait to see what the end result of this book looks like. Try the post draft outline technique and let me know how it worked for you in the comments below. Follow up if you want more advice on discovery writing from a daily discovery writer.

Happy writing.

More writing tools here.

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