Budding novelist learns the value of outlining

Tineke Broer found the International Writers’ Collective at the beginning of the pandemic and was most recently a student in the online Level IV workshop. During the week she works as a researcher and assistant professor at Tilburg University and on the weekends she works on her novel. She lives in Tilburg with her dog Scout, named after a character in one of her favorite books – To Kill a Mockingbird. Favorite authors include Zadie Smith, Chimamanda Ngozie Adichie, and Colm Tóibín.


What’s the best thing about writing?

The best thing about writing is that I can surprise myself. Through writing, I often discover new things about how I look at the world. I am also interested in psychology, how people think, and how they relate to each other, and it’s really fun to explore that. And that’s another thing – the fun and the enjoyment you get from writing. That’s what keeps me going as well.


What are you working on at the moment?

I am eight years into writing a novel. I am what they call at the IWC a Pantser, meaning that I didn’t start out with an outline. My process was quite organic, and I would write chronologically in the beginning. Through the IWC courses, I am learning more about the value of outlines. I am thinking more about how to develop a structure for the novel and constantly up the tension.


Where do you get the inspiration when you write?

Sometimes a story or novel idea starts with a premise – such as a particular relationship set-up that I find intriguing – or an image. I do sometimes hear or see things on the street that I take as inspiration. When you’re in that mindset of writing, you see a lot more than you would otherwise and are more attentive. Although my novel is not autobiographical, I do of course take inspiration from what happens to me. Often though, I don’t really know where my inspiration comes from.


What’s the hardest thing about writing?

At the moment, I am struggling with finding a good structure and keeping up the tension in my novel. It requires you to see the whole picture, which is more challenging to me than writing individual scenes. And, of course, the other thing is reconciling my full-time job with writing, and I am sure many people recognize this struggle. Making space in your mind for writing is hard, and you can’t control how busy life gets sometimes.


I think the struggle and frustration that comes from writing as a hobby and as a passion is something that most students will recognize. What are ways that we can make it work?

In general, I try to keep weekend mornings free. It doesn’t work all the time, but it helps me to have that routine. I am always impressed that people can write in the evenings during the week. I do think that being structured about your writing helps too. One of the teachers in the IWC, Ellen, has taught me a lot about outlining and, as one option, how to use Excel for it, for instance.


What does an outline Excel look like?

It’s basically a list of all the scenes in the novel and a summary of what happens in each scene. I then have an additional column to explain how that scene moves the plot and another one with the conflict level, from 1-10. The conflict level is the highest if, for example, there is a fight between two characters, but also if the main character is going through a lot emotionally.


How has writing changed other aspects of your life?

When I am really into a story, I have this heightened awareness I mentioned before – I am much more aware of what’s happening around me. Writing forces me into that heightened awareness mode and grounds me in the present in my life, though I used to have that heightened awareness a lot more when I was younger, and I struggle to be in that mindset now. I think it has to do with life and work getting busier as you get older.


Author: Beatriz Ramos

11 May 2023

3 responses on "Budding novelist learns the value of outlining"

  1. Hi Tineke, so nice to read about your writing process. Good to hear you’re still working on your novel, I clearly remember a number of beautiful scenes from the class we did together.

  2. Great and instructional and inspiring- thanks for sharing this- regards- Dan

  3. thanks for sharing! I like the way you articulated how writing helps you be more present and aware of the things you experience in life. Also really relate to this challenge of writing more organically v. using an outline – i haven’t tried to write a novel yet but I think this excel tip will be very useful to have a grasp of the bigger picture!

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