Writing a novel can seem intimidating to a lot of authors, but it doesn’t have to be. If you think of a novel as a collection of thousands of words (sometimes upwards of 150, 000), it seems like a mountain where you can’t even see the top – but if you learn how to approach your novel with a story outline before you’ve written a single word, it becomes a much easier process instead.

Here’s how to approach your novel or story with an outline – and why you should.

Every Story or Book Has a File

Get into the habit of giving every story or book that you start its own file or folder. This can be handwritten or it can be electronic – that’s up to you. Your file is used for recording any changes, any important plot points, any character traits and anything else you think of that builds your story.

Why do this? It’s a quick-reference guide while you’re writing your book – and it can help you have something to go back to when you aren’t sure about something. (How do you think JK Rowling kept track of the spells throughout the entire series without a single mistake?)

How to Start an Outline

Start an outline anywhere and any way you like. Some writers start out with keywords that outline important plot points or characters, other writers will write down sentence snippets or paragraphs that they would like to include in their book later.

Your outline needs to answer basic questions: What happens in this story? When does it happen? How does it happen? Why does it happen? How you get to answering these questions is up to you.

Why Outlines Are Important

Outlines are vital for fiction. Sure, there are a precious few writers who can spot an entire book’s worth of plotting without having to write anything down – but it’s likely that neither of us count as one of those.

Outlines help. They can help you to see where the plot of your book is going: This is the trick to inserting clever plot twists and coming up with a great ending.

When you see your story at a glance as an outline, it’s easier to shift things around, make major changes, insert great plot twists and come up with an ending that fits with the beginning of your story..

If you aren’t outlining your fiction, you’re tumbling around in the dark and you, the writer, has no idea where your story is really going. This can lead to the insertion of a lot of loose plot points and inconclusive side-plots.

See why you should always outline?

Notes, Notes and Notes

Other than an official outline for where you’re going to take your book when it comes to the characters and plot, it can help writers a lot to also keep a separate file or book for notes. These are notes that you write down whenever you think of something could that could work for your story.

When writers sit down to think of ideas, this in itself sometimes creates a form of writer’s block where they can’t think of a single thing. Keeping a notebook on you at all times helps to avoid this problem: Whenever an idea pops up, write it down. After a few months worth of writing down your ideas, you’ll have a notebook with plenty of ideas to refer to when you’re feeling blocked.

Always keep your notes. These can be useful years down the line, and can ensure that you literally never run out of ideas and concepts to fire up your fiction.