Monday Musings #04 – Research? Outlining? What?


Welcome to Monday Musings, where I ponder some aspect of writing that has popped into my head over the last week or so. This week I wanted to talk about how I approach the start of a new WIP. I have a feeling it’s actually not as uncommon as it might seem, but it does tend to flout a lot of conventional advice about how to start writing a new novel.

We all know the two commonly bandied-about terms plotter and pantser. At first glance, I would seem to be a pantser. I can’t do character bibles and full outlines at the start. It just doesn’t work for me. For me, these things grow organically as I work my way through the first draft. However, I do sometimes sit and plot out the next few chapters, starting from where I left off the day before. If I realise something hasn’t worked and will need to be changed, I make a note of that to come back to in revisions. I continue to write subsequent chapters as though that change has already been made, so that I don’t need to change as much later.

It’s after the first draft is written that I’m able to write a full outline, though even then, it can still change. Nothing is really set in stone.

I have a similar approach to research. When I wrote A More Complicated Fairytale, I set it in a quasi-Edwardian pre-First World War era. I knew an okay amount about this period from working at the Australian War Memorial for a few years, but there was still stuff that I was, pardon my language, bullshitting. Perhaps if I had had a full outline from the start, then I would have known what I had to look into at that point, and I could have had it all put together in nice, shiny research documents before I started. But this book more than any other I’ve worked on, demanded to be written without any pausing for breath (or fact-checking). Once I had the first draft and some feedback from the very first readers, I was able to identify what needed to be expanded, explained, made stronger. I could never have done this at the outset.

I remember once hearing the term “percolator” as a midway point between plotter and pantser and I do like that. The ideas are there, but they need to time brew, even between drafts, before they can be fully articulated. New ideas, characters, plot-points wheedle their way in and create more detail.

The upshot of this post could be that labels are silly and we all have our own ways of writing that suit us best. But at the same time, I find it fascinating learning about other’s people’s processes, and so I wanted to share a bit about mine. I wanted to talk about how I’m currently approaching revisions as well, but I might save that for next week.


Published by Emily Wrayburn

She/Her. Writer. Reader. Blogger. Hufflepuff. Theatre nerd.

2 thoughts on “Monday Musings #04 – Research? Outlining? What?

  1. I love the term ‘percolator’. If I had to choose one term to describe my process, it would be that. Usually, I’ll write down the kernel of the idea, may be a scene, some worldbuilding, a vivid character, and let it brew for a very long time (e.g. months or years). Then I do the first draft, sort of plotting as I go, and do a full outline before rewrites (at which point everything changes again anyway haha) 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

  2. I’ve always found that no matter how rigidly I plot out to begin with, things always change. Now, I usually write a few chapters, get an idea of where the story is going, do a basic plot, and then at the end of the first draft I can write an outline etc. When I first started writing I literally just wrote and everything worked itself out, but now I find I like to have a bit more of an idea of where the story is going (aka vaguely how/where/when does it end), but I’m still usually winging it slightly. My characters are definitely pantsers!


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