Do you outline or just “wing it”? Yes, yes I do.

Guest Post by Grant Staley


Do you outline or just “wing it”? Yes, yes I do. 

Several years ago, I read a “how to write a novel” book that stated that a solid outline was a must. According to that author, writers accomplish most of their labor with a tight, comprehensive blueprint for their work. After that, the novel almost writes itself. In other words, the writer merely connects the dots. 

This is probably a fine approach for some novels and certainly for technical or non-fiction writings, but for me, I like the spontaneity of having a general sense of direction and then letting surprising twists take the work in unanticipated directions. 

For To Finish A Quilt, winging it seemed the right approach. Sure, I had a basic sense of where the story would go because its bones are loosely (in the extreme) historical. When I first sat at the keyboard, however, I had no idea of beginning it with a dream – none. It just came forward and readers have universally loved that beginning. 

That dream revealed much about the reasons for a main character’s personality and led into the narrative that followed. Following on, the next chapters are history, back stories that deepens our understanding. Those started life in outline form. 

I find writing in this manner generates surprising details that may initially seem meaningless. In the first draft of To Finish A Quilt, an absolutely trivial element, in and of itself, came to mind (“… and Eunice could see a few strands of dark curly hair.”) Later, it supplied the basis for a two-line conversation that made an important point for the two characters involved and ended the chapter. In later drafts, however, that detail became a first hint in a theme that weaves through the book. 

Wall of Shadows, a novel I hope to release in late 2013, is much more structured. Unfolding over the course of a week, rather than decades as does Quilt, a tighter outline works well. Sunday, Monday, Tuesday, … Still, that provides only the framework for what will become the finished manuscript. With it too, I leave great gaps for ideas to suddenly string from who-knows-where. 

Grant, originally from California, lives in the Auckland suburb of St. Heliers with his wife and their two dogs. He is an avid sailor, musician, cyclist, and writer.  

His first novel To Finish A Quilt is a story of a young woman’s unfathomable hurt, the way it influences others around her, and how two men central to her life reach resolution and peace. A second novel is in progress for release in late 2013. Learn more at


Posted on June 21, 2012, in Publicity & Writing. Bookmark the permalink. 1 Comment.

  1. Thanks for telling both sides; too often it's my way or the highway. Most of us who've committed to the insanity of novel writing for an extended time know that a good mix of planning and wandering works best.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: