How Much Time Should I Spend On Writing vs. Plotting?

How much time should you spend on writing vs. plotting?

If you're a plotter, it's likely you've asked yourself this question. When is it time to stop plotting and start writing?

This is a great question, and today, I'm going to answer it!

Let's go!


So how much time should you spend on your outline alone?

Some writers can take as long as several months to write the outline to their book. Of course, this will all depend on how the outline is written, especially when it comes to length.

Let's talk about outlines for a minute.

Needless to say, every outline is different. I haven't seen another writer's outline, but I expect it's a little different from mine. I simply use bullet points in a document when putting my scenes and thoughts in order. But when I'm ready to start outlining the scene a little deeper, I get rid of the bullet points and just start writing the outline as I would a story (using paragraphs).

Your outline can look any way you want it to. As long as it works for you, you could grab index cards and write a few key words on there, then tape them in order on a board. (I've seen something like this before, but I don't know if it works.)

As for length, some outlines might be only a few hundred words long. Other outlines can get up to 15k-20k words long! (I'm aiming for that myself because I like details!)

But how long should YOUR outline be until it's time to write?

Here's what I'd suggest.

If you don't want to write all the details: Aim for at least one sentence per scene that tells you what's going to happen in each scene. (This is what we'd call the "alpha point" of the scene.)

If you LOVE details: Aim for 300-500 words per scene. That way, you can outline your characters' movements and thoughts, and you'll get a better grip on how you want your scene to play out. (Especially if you plan on doing NaNoWriMo, this might be the way to go—but then again, do whatever works best for you!)


How do you know your outline is finished?

Once you've fully outlined your book—that is, outlined each scene, regardless of how many words you've written—then look through it. Do you know enough about each scene to write it well? Do your scenes arranged in a nice, coherent order that makes sense to the story?

The truth is, you might never know whether or not your outline is done. But once you've finished outlining each scene in your book, it's time to write! Your first draft will be rough, but don't worry, you can fix things later! A rough draft is called a rough draft for a reason!

Here's the bottom line: outline till you're ready to write. Outline till you feel you have enough pieces of your outline to start pasting together in nice sentences.
talk to me!
How long does it take YOU to outline your book? How long is YOUR outline?



  1. It's not east for a Pantser to read this. 300-500 words a scene?! That's practically writing the scene!

    In all honesty, I usually find my ending (which is destined to change), get a beginning and work from there. It's messy, but it works.

    Great post and I know Outliners will benefit from it.

    1. Hi, Thomas! Every writer will be different, so that's just an estimation. ;)

      Actually, finding the ending first is a GREAT way to write.

      Thank you! :D

  2. Any recommendations for outlining for NaNoWriMo?

    1. Hi, Eliana! If you go to the Young Writers Workshop (since I know you're a YDubber) and find the How To Win NaNoWriMo mini course, you might find some helpful advice there! I have not actually participated in NaNoWriMo before, but I definitely know that you must plan ahead. Abbie Emmons likes to outline things in detail, so she will have long outlines. I'm not sure if she still does that for NaNoWriMo or not.

      Do what works best for you, and plan ahead! :D

    2. Oh, I’ve seen that series! And I will definitely need to check out Abbie Emmon’s videos. Thanks! =)

    3. Yes, check those out! You're welcome! :D

  3. You know, I don't think of any story of mine I've ever had a physical outline for. I always hated doing outlines for school as they felt too constricting, and I need flexibility in writing. Not having to stick to an outline allows me to play with the different perspectives and scene ideas that would definitely would not have come up in the original outline. I guess you can theoretically change the physical outline then too... It just feels like too much work. XD Can you tell I'm definitely a pantser? :P For me, what's always worked is having a few scenes I KNOW I want in there in a specific order and keep a mental outline in my head. Then it's just a matter of filling the very many blank spaces of what would need to happen in order to reach the next scene I really want. It's probs why my books descend into a kind of organized chaos, but-hey- it works! Nice work as always, Julia! :)

    1. Hi, Heidi! Hey, as long as it works for you! :D

      I used to be a pantser too, but I've found that outlining works a lot better for me. Otherwise, I feel like I have no idea what I'm doing--which is true. XD

      Outlining is work, for sure, but it's almost like the first draft of your novel. ;)


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