It’s about that time again to begin outlining another book. This November I will be participating in NaNoWriMo (National Novel Writing Month) for the first time since 2017. I will be writing the first draft of The Palms of Light, the third book in The Hoarding series (wow it feels so weird calling it my ‘third’ book!). For those of you who don’t know, NaNoWriMo is a nonprofit organization that gives writers a space, tools, and a community online to write 50,000 words in one month. That comes out to be roughly 1,666 words a day. Yikes!

As intimidating as it sounds, it’s a great incentive to sit down and write because at the end of the month you’ll have a good portion of a novel already finished.

However, as I sit down to outline, I’ve encountered a problem. After successfully writing two novels, I thought I would be a pro at the writing process by now. But the truth is, I’m scared. I feel as much as a noob as I did back in 2016 when I wondered how to even go about writing a book. Luckily, there was a lot on Google to help answer that question.

Now, there’s not much out there on the internet to teach you how to successfully finish the third book in a trilogy. I honestly felt less scared diving into Junkland, the first book in The Hoarding series, than I feel now, because now I’m faced with a lot of pressure. Pressure to tie all the loose ends together. Pressure to please my fans. And pressure to finish a trilogy and not bomb the ending.

So as NaNoWriMo approaches, I wanted to share with you the path I will take to prepare my outline in the hopes that it helps someone else out there Googling “How to outline a third book in a trilogy.”

When I outlined The Lost Soul, the second book in The Hoarding series, I really didn’t have much story to go off of. I just outlined what I knew and dove right into the writing during NaNoWriMo in 2017. For book three I definitely have a lot more material to work with. However, it’s mainly just information I need to reveal instead of actual story.

For example, information to be revealed in Star Wars is Darth Vader telling Luke Skywalker that he is his father. That sounds great and all, but it’s just information needing to be revealed. The important part is missing: the story. When and where and how does Darth Vader tell Luke this information? What has led Luke Skywalker up to this dramatic plot point? What is happening during this scene? What will happen after and how will it change the character of Luke in the overall story. How will it affect the other characters?

This is what I’m dealing with now. I have the information I need to reveal, but I’m lacking on the story surrounding the revealing of this important information. NaNoWriMo is a week and a half away and I’m still lacking story content for my outline. I can’t just write “I am your father” over and over again. I need content. But where will the story come from if it doesn’t exist? How can I discover it?

An epiphany came to me while pumping some iron at my gym. I had two first outlines to learn from. How lucky can a person be? I searched through my archives and found the very first outline of Junkland and the first outline of The Lost Soul. I read these outlines and was flabbergasted at how different the final stories were from the outlines. But those stories wouldn’t have existed without those outlines. I then realized how much of a fool I was. I forgot the most important rule of all…

Right from start to finish. No matter what!

This means outlining every single plot and story point you can think of and then just dive right into it, only stopping when you have hit an end. It doesn’t matter if these story points jump gaps and don’t line up to the chapters before and after. Write what you know will happen even if it’s just the beginning and the end, or even a very vague middle. Writing all this down will open new doors and those missing puzzle pieces of story that you couldn’t think of before will begin to appear out of thin air. At least that’s what happened for me while writing Junkland and The Lost Soul.

So in the following days I will be outlining every single scene I know will happen and must happen in The Palms of Light. Then once NaNoWriMo arrives, I will write as much as I can with these scenes and pray that as I approach my end, more story will be discovered to fill in the missing gaps.

I hope this helps someone else out there struggling to outline a third book. Just know you are not alone. Happy writing!

Share your outlining process in the comments below!