Preparation Is Worth a Pound of Proofreading

One of the most dramatic lessons I learned when writing my portal fantasy Dreamlander was one so obvious I shouldn’t have had to learn it. And that was, in a nutshell, don’t skip the prep. Now, as someone who wrote a whole book on outlining and has a whole software program based on that book, you’d probably think outlining would come second nature to me. But this wasn’t always so. Prior to Dreamlander, I had successfully outlined two books. I knew the benefits, I enjoyed the process. But with Dreamlander, I just… didn’t do it.

Dreamlander (Amazon affiliate link)

There were a number of reasons for this, the biggest of which was that I was burned out on prep after having to abandon a previously outlined and researched book. I just wanted to dive in and write the darn thing. So I did. And I got stuck because, without an outline, I had no idea where the story was going. So I stopped. I wrote an outline. And then, finally, I started writing again. And—bam!—the difference was incredible.

Outlining Your Novel: Map Your Way to Success by K.M. Weiland

Outlining Your Novel (Amazon affiliate link)

This whole idea of not skipping prep goes far beyond just outlining—whether that’s your cuppa or not. After my experience with Dreamlander, I certainly believe outlining is the most important part of the prep. But you also have to make time early on for other occasionally unattractive tasks such as research, character interviews, sometimes even a few practice scenes just to figure out the proper POV, tense, voice, and style.

The thing is most of us are writers. So what do we want to do? Write. We don’t want to outline. We don’t want to research. Sometimes we don’t even want to edit. But these are all vital parts of the process. We can write without them. But we’ll never become authors without them. So learn from my mistake and take the time to do the needed groundwork before you even start that first chapter.

Wordplayers, tell me your opinions! Have you ever neglected prep work and regretted it? Tell me in the comments!

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About K.M. Weiland | @KMWeiland

K.M. Weiland is the award-winning and internationally-published author of the acclaimed writing guides Outlining Your Novel, Structuring Your Novel, and Creating Character Arcs. A native of western Nebraska, she writes historical and fantasy novels and mentors authors on her award-winning website Helping Writers Become Authors.


  1. Nope. I live for the prep work, and I know my stories are stronger for it. 🙂

  2. I like that concept, that you don’t need an outline to be a writer, but it sure as hell helps if you want to be an author.

  3. I’ve heard of some writers being able to dive in and just write without any sort of outline at all. Looking at all the writing projects I’ve started but haven’t finished because at some point (usually close to the beginning) I got stuck is making me realize I may not be one of those writers :p

    Just bought your e-book on outlining, can’t wait to read it!!

  4. At age 16 I sat down to a blank screen with one thought: I don’t want to have to do research. The previous twenty-odd attempts at military fiction showed me that I didn’t have the drive to look things up. So I literally waded in one night with absolutely no sense of anything. I wrote line by line, borrowing heavily (and only occasionally subconsciously) from stuff I’d already read. I came up with characters names as I needed them, and I wrote in the beginnings of possible arcs whenever possible, trusting myself to carry and close them when necessary.

    11 years later, I’m starting on the third from-scratch draft of that beginning. I’ve written its entirety twice. Some of those arcs are still in it; most have died. Do I wish I had outlined from the beginning? I wouldn’t have started the book if I had tried. But now that I know I can, indeed, write novel-length fiction (not a certainty 11 years ago) and have many more books floating throughout my head, I will be outlining from now on. It extends the creative process, which is the most fun part; though I find revising to be fun in its own right. But I may yet get in a rush and neglect outlining, which I’ll be sure to regret ^_^

  5. I haven’t done as much prep work on my current WIP as I have on most other things. And so, consequently, I’m stuck musing over the plot and trying to figure out what the next scene should be while attempting to crank out words for it for NaNoWriMo. Yeah, I should plot and outline a lot more before trying NaNoWriMo next year, for sure. Outlines are awesome!

  6. Yep, been there done that. I usually prepare. I’m the preparation type of personality. In fact, often I enjoy the planning as much as the writing. Sometimes too much!

    With my current novel effort–and there have been more than one–I have delayed re-writing (though now I am beginning that effort) because I have been getting such good ideas (some from your posts, by the way) and to re-write my novel the 4th time would be a waste of a lot of time.

    in the past year or two, I have done a lot of reading and study of fiction craft, read some good books of fiction, and let my previous draft marionate and my notes accumulate–had to index the latter, that the story has deepened and is definitely richer now. But I need lists now to make sure I include everything I want to, as well as remembering to keep the conflict going, see that my character arcs progress, etc.

    Good post.

  7. “I was burned out on prep after having to abandon a previously outlined and researched book” –

    and then of course you did your outline once you were stuck and you began writing again, but…

    no need to be so harsh on yourself (i say) – as you say, we “are” writers / creatives, etc

    so, like dieting and/or exercising, i can’t “Just” diet or exericse, ie, “only” eat correctly or never miss doing a routine

    most currently, i began my outline until it stimulated to do the first chapters, wrote until i sensed my outline was too incomplete, stewed and outlined, then (like you) felt the incredible release that allowed more writing –

    so, for me, it’s a process, a give and take, with the balance being what it’ll be to enable a sort of organic response and creativity within me that’s also feels worth doing

    love your articles k.m. 😉 best wishes, happy thanksgiving 😉

  8. Addendum: “and to re-write my novel the 4th time would be a waste of a lot of time”–I meant to do that prematurely.

  9. @Stina: I have to say the prep work has almost become my favorite part of the process. I love the wild creativity of the outlining phase.

    @Ravens: In all fairness, many wonderful authors don’t, strictly speaking, use an outline. But I consider my outlines to be my first drafts. The only difference is that, unlike an author who chooses not to use an outline the first time around, I have less revision afterwards.

    @Cate: Thank you! I hope you enjoy the book.

    @Daniel: You raise a good point. Although I absolutely feel outlining is a huge time and frustration saver, not all authors at all moments in their journey are going to be prepared or willing to use it (as I wasn’t when I started Dreamlander). One way or another, we all muddle along and each story finds the path it’s meant to take.

    @Grace: As I can attest, sometimes we have to learn things the hard way!

    @Bill: “Marinating” is crucial. I’m in the midst of a rewrite of my WIP The Deepest Breath. It’s been waiting for some months, even though I had the time to do it earlier this year, simply because I could feel I wasn’t yet ready to move it on to the next stage.

    @Adan: The process of outlining a little, writing a little, outlining some more is one favored by many authors. It’s a nice mix-up of both styles, offering most of the benefits of both and few of the drawbacks.

  10. Hear, hear! I have no doubt that the reason I’ve been able to get further in two months with this first draft than in any other previous attempts is because I had never prepped as much for a first draft as I did for this. I’m 1/3 of the way through in my first draft in just two months, and it took me years (yes, YEARS) to get to that milestone with my only other completed manuscript. What a difference planning makes! I love knowing what each scene is going to entail and what my characters want and are feeling at every step along the way. The only “block” I still get from time to time is in not knowing how to articulate what I can imagine so clearly in my head, but that’s (relatively) easily remedied by just turning off the inner critic and writing it in basic words–then fixing it later in the revision stage.

    I hear you, though, it is tough to hold yourself back on the actual writing part and put in the necessary upfront work. Writing is what gives us writers ultimate joy, so the more we delay that particular gratification, the more difficult it is, but boy, once the writing process itself does finally start, all the prep work pays off in dividends.

  11. “Delayed gratification” is a good term for it. Like with most things in life, if we get the hard stuff done first, we’re better able to enjoy the fun stuff.

  12. I am not one for long term preparation, i figure out what will happen in a scene but beyond that its usually just ideas floating. Yet recently i have taken to brainstorming alot with visual prompts and trying to form a sort of outline for my wips amd its amazing how many ideas follow on to link things together, it certainly is nice to have a clearer sense of where you are headed.

  13. I’m definitely learning to do ‘prep’ the hard way;( Just got my 1st round of edits back from my editor and looks like I’ll need need to take out some scenes…and add new ones to get the flow better…ouch! I had and outline…but the problem was I veered off to the side on my own bunny trail too often. So I’m learning to do the prep…the hard work 1st:) Thanks for the great post!

  14. Lack of prep work killed many of my early stories..

    Now, while I don’t outline the entire story, I make sure I know what my protagonist’s goal is.. and generally try to get a good goal for the antagonist.. the rest of the story just kinda flows together semi-smoothly..
    I actually kind of enjoy proof-reading DURING the writing process, as it helps to get the juices flowing, and forces me to READ what I’ve already written, so I can get an idea of where I want to go next..

  15. @sjp: I love visual prompts. I keep folders upon folders of pix for each WIP (as you may have noticed from the Pinterest boards I’ve been creating for Dreamlander).

    @Lorna: Outlines don’t eliminate revision, by any means, but they sure do help.

    @Gideon: I am proofreader-as-I-go too. It keeps me grounded in the story, not to mention keeping the whole thing polished up.

  16. Very innovative post. Many writers do not need an outline to get started.

  17. True enough. But they’re helpful more often than not.

  18. I used to neglect prep work. It was also an unfinished manuscript. Then I started world building and pre plotting, and I’ve gotten further.

  19. It’s *work* no mistake, but it’s also a lot of fun once you get into it.

  20. The biggest pitfall for me, is to outline one plot. But then do research for the setting I’m wanting to do, and then realize such a war in such a setting would be slightly improbable. Particularly if the original plot was a civil war, but its after a nuclear war.

    So then you have to rework the outline. And then write up to a point, then do research and realize your reverse engineering science is incorrect too.D: So its constant reworking.

  21. Better to rework an outline than to rework a whole draft! I like to start out with a basic understanding of my setting (or whatever else may need researched). If I know enough to know when I’m plotting something totally inconceivable, that’s all I need at that point. Then, by the time the outline is finished, I’ll have a list of more specific questions I can find answers to during the official research phase.

  22. Planning has been vital for me, but the outline keeps changing as I write. My characters do things I hadn’t planned and so the tweaking of the outline commences and never ever stops! Aahh! But it’s awesome.

  23. Such is the writing life! My finished story never looks just like the outline. The benefit of the outline is more that it saves us from even *more* changes within the actual draft than we have otherwise.

  24. I’be bought and just finished Dreamlander – and I loved it! I can’t believe you’ve stalled with that book before. That brings me to my question: How did you redevelop Dreamlander once you’ve stalled? Did you reuse any of the stuff you’ve already written by then? Did you start outlining from scratch? Any tips for reworking a half-written novel that’s going nowhere?


  25. Thank you so much! I’m just tickled pink that you enjoyed it so much. The story itself remained pretty much the same throughout revisions. A few major scenes got cut, but, mostly, the changes had to do with fleshing out characters and settings. I reused some previously written scenes, but I had to create most of them from scratch. At the time of my initial stall, I didn’t have any kind of an outline at all, so I stopped and created one from there. (If you’re interested in my complete outlining process, you can find out more about that in my book Outlining Your Novel.)

  26. I think advance research for medical topics is particularly essential. I’ve seen so many writers write themselves into a corner, and when they ask me for help, I have to give them the bad news—that injury and timeline won’t cause the outcome they’ve used. Then they have to rewrite.

  27. Hi Katie, it’s been a long time since we last spoke. I used to run the webinars for ACFW and I asked and you kindly gave your time to do one.

    I think I may have told you this way back then, in how much your book “Outlining Your Novel: May Your Way to Success” HUGELY impacted me.

    It’s been almost 16 years since me and my husband’s beloved 8 y/o little angel contracted E. coli and passed away in my arms on July 16, 2008. Needless to say, the road since that tragic time has had its many ups and downs.

    However, it’s because of my faith in God that He’s always had the patience and grace with me to bestow so many blessings over the years that came out of losing our precious baby girl. One of those blessings, which took me years to see myself as one due to me having dyslexia, was Him giving me the gift of writing. It took me years to finally not only say I am a writer but that I now believe I’m actually good at it. Do I think I have no more to learn? Nope. In fact, I know I do and I probably will continue to through the rest of my life. It’s the fact that I know have the belief in myself and know God blessed me with this unexpected gift. I was almost 35 y/o when it happened.

    It was around 2011 that I had a fiction idea that popped into my head. I had zero knowledge of how to write anything fiction. I remember writing a couple of pages and then reading it outloud to my husband. He pointed out in as nice of a way as possible that it needed a lot of work. LOL

    It was through this journey I began to write my first fiction novel. I’d literally spent months writing out the first 3 chapters. I kept doing a little bit of writing and then editing. Do this over and over. It was like my story was going no where. I had a general sense of where I was going but it was like I was wondering in the desert with no compass.

    One day I had a brilliant idea that struck: What if I did a quick brief outline to see if I could have better direction with where to take the book. This just over a page outline was signifiant. I was actually able to finish the book at about 50k words. Boy was I proud of myself.

    Yet, the book still didn’t feel right to me. Like I wasn’t telling the story the way it needed to be told. It was this that brought me to Amazon in search of a book that taught how to outline a novel. I think the only one available at the time was “Outlining Your Novel.” I purchased the paperback and in just a couple of days I dove in head first.

    I began the process of digging really deep into my novel. The actual outline ended up being something like 30 to 40 pages long. There were some scenes already so vividly clear I even did a very rough draft of them in the outline.

    As a result of this new outline, my book went from 50k works to about 115k. It was like I’d written an almost entirely new book due to how different everything turned out. That first version was more like a foundation to build off of but the new outline with the new finished first draft because the home without the finishing touches.

    It’s taken me several years since I sat down that first time to finally say my book is finished and edited many times by me that I’m now in the process of looking for someone to professionally edit it.

    The bottomline, is I know my book is where it is today because of the influence of this one book my Katie. Thank you Katie for writing such an invaluable took for writers.

    Sorry for being so long winded. I have purchased all your books on writing and I’m trying to find out what order would you recommend reading all of them, to include where you’d but the outlining book, for all your writing books. I have several ideas for books but I’d like to read your books to be in an even better place when I begin the process of the next book.

    Thank you in advance for writing my comment and answering my question.


    • K.M. Weiland | @KMWeiland says

      Great to you hear from you! So glad the books have been helpful to you over the years.

      Regarding my books, Outlining Your Novel is more about brainstorming and organizing ideas. It covers broader story principles like discovering your characters and setting and figuring out your plot.

      Structuring Your Novel is about the nitty-gritty of story, scene, and sentence structure.

      Creating Character Arcs is about using structure to harmonize character, plot, and theme into a seamless and powerful narrative.

      Writing Your Story’s Theme is about using plot structure and character arcs to realize a cohesive and resonant theme.

      If you’re going to read all four, I recommend reading them in the order they were published: outlining, then structuring, then character arcs, then theme. They build right into each other. However, if you’re only going to read one, I recommend Creating Character Arcs. It’s more important than outlining and includes basic info on structuring and theme.

      The new book Writing Archetypal Character Arcs is completely different from Creating Character Arcs. Although a reading of Creating Character Arcs will be helpful in understanding some of the underlying theory in Writing Archetypal Character Arcs, the new book builds on basic character arc techniques to explore the themes and symbolism of the six foundational archetypal “life arcs” found within the human experience. The familiar Hero’s Journey is the second of the six arcs, with the book exploring far beyond that to cover feminine arcs as well as arcs from the three segments of life: youthful, mature, and elder.

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