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During a writer’s conference, I was talking to Isaac Stewart, an assistant of Brandon Sanderson (blatant name drop), about Discovery Writing versus Outlining.

Discovery Writing

Discovery writing is starting to write your novel with often nothing more than a single idea.

This is like being in a completely dark area and you are going to start walking and feel your way to your story.

Some great stories are created this way. Many of the most unique stories happen this way.

One of its main flaws is that it is easy to write off on a tangent and get lost going the wrong direction. It can lead to a lot of wasted writing.


Outlining is where you figure out the characters, plot, and chapter headings, or scenes. Often outlining involves a detailed outline of what happens in each chapter.

This is like being in Ta completely dark area and before you move, you some turn on a bright light, maybe even the sun, that illuminates the area so thoroughly, you know exactly where you are you are going before starting to walk.

Some great stories are built this way. Also, it has a huge benefit for writers, in that they always know what to write.

One of its flaws is that it can lead to formulaic novels that aren’t unique. Or the novel feels forced. Or the direction of the novel should be obvious but the novel doesn’t go the correct direction because instead it follows the outline.

Flashlight Writing

I didn’t conform to either of these. I used both. I start with an idea. I write a short story that is discovering writing. That short story is like turning on a flash light. I can now see one area, where I am pointing my flashlight. Then as I move, I illuminate a short distance by outlining my next chapter. Sometimes I outline as far as two chapters ahead, but often I discover the next chapter.

Don’t feel trapped

So don’t feel trapped into outlining or discovery writing. Find what works for you. Try flashlight writing. Don’t write in the dark and don’t fall off a cliff, but still allow yourself to discover.