I love the way Anne Lamott describes writing. She says,

“Writing is like driving at night with headlights: you can only see a little bit.”

Should you outline your novel, making sure you know everything that happens before you write or do you take Anne Lamott's advice and drive in the dark?

Could it be possible to do both?

Writing is like driving at night

Photo by eblaser

I’m not an outliner. When I try to write an outline, I end up with complete sentences that turn into paragraphs when I remove the bullets.

But I am a planner. I know my piece is going from Story Point A to Story Point B, but I let the characters find the best road to get there. That’s when things get fun.

Here are my two steps to avoid an outline while sticking to the plan:

1. Let your character drive.

When you let the characters drive, you can't see beyond the headlights. Characters love to explore uncharted territory and some really neat things appear. The car gets lost the driver cruises down avenues you hadn't considered. It ends up in a ditch when the character is adamant her way is better than yours. The car makes a u-turn when he misses the destination. Ultimately, the story-car pulls into a parking lot that may or may not be Parking Lot (or Story Point) B.

2. Make your character sit in the passenger seat.

Allowing characters to drive all of the way through the writing and publication of a piece leads to a road trip longer than necessary. At some point you need to regain control of the wheel. Once you're back in the driver's seat, be sure to do some revising.


For fifteen minutes, write about some people in a car at night when something unexpected happens. Don't plan where your piece will go but let the characters drive. Share it here. Be sure to comment on some other posts too. Try to say one aspect you liked and one aspect you didn’t care for.

Joe Bunting is an author and the leader of The Write Practice community. He is also the author of the new book Crowdsourcing Paris, a real life adventure story set in France. It was a #1 New Release on Amazon. Follow him on Instagram (@jhbunting).

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