O is for Outline-Phobic: I’m Allergic to Prewritten Outlines

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If you stumbled upon me through the A to Z Blog Challenge, welcome.  If not, check out the challenge and all those participating at their site.

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Today, I’m going to talk about a strange thing about me.  I am Outline-Phobic and am fairly serious when I claim to be allergic to prewritten outlines.

Here’s what I mean:

I start out a writing project with a vague idea of the three main plot points, the beginning, middle, and end as it were.  If I plan much more than that, I end up with writers block because I feel enslaved to the plan rather than feeling that I have the ability to change the plan as I write.  I am a discovery writer and an unrepentant pantser.  This works for me.  This does not work for everyone.  At a recent writing workshop I helped present, I made the statement that if the project changed course, you could scrap the original plan and start over.  One of my fellow presenters (very much a planner) almost had a panic attack at the very idea of trashing the entire outline.

The reason I claim an allergy only to prewritten outlines, not all outlines, is that after I start writing, I create an outline that details what I wrote.  This is incredibly useful for revision.  However, if I had written out the outline before I wrote the actual piece, I’d never write anything.  I’d be stuck.  I’ve tried many times to write outlines and then write the piece and it’s never worked.  I even did this in high school when we were required to turn in an outline and then out final paper.  I would write the paper by the outline deadline because otherwise my outline would have no relation to my actual paper (which teacher tended to frown upon).

This comes back to writers being strange creatures in general, as well as the highly individualized nature of writing.  There are a million pieces of advice out there for writers, and half of them contradict the other half because every writer is an individual and has to develop their own habits, style, and workflow.  Discovery writers go about things very different than writers who are more organization and planning oriented.  Plotters get hopelessly lost without their outlines and Pantsers breeze through with little or no plan at all.

Which kind of writer are you?

Are you a pantser who sits down to write and flies by the seat of your pants until you write “the end” on the piece?

Or are you a plotter, someone who plans out each plot point, chapter, and even scene before ever writing a word of your manuscript?

Or are you a hybrid of the two with features of each style?

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11 thoughts on “O is for Outline-Phobic: I’m Allergic to Prewritten Outlines

  1. I’m a hybrid planner: I’ll have a fair idea of what the middle will hold and then write back to the beginning and then from the middle to the end. When this first draft is done, I’ll write down what my expectations of each chapter is before doing the rewriting. Then I’ll set the inner editor free to fix what needs fixing. A proper outline smothers me during the first draft. No outline makes me feel lost during the second draft… Oh, the vagaries of writing 😉 Good luck with the rest of the AtoZchallenge.

  2. I am more of a blogger than a writer, but I just like to write about things that inspire me at the moment. When I wrote papers in college I never enjoyed doing outlines. I would seriously just envision what I wanted to write in my mind and then start typing. I also like to make mental lists, and only with age did I start writing things down because I felt this was what everyone was supposed to do.

    • Bloggers are still writers in my opinion. There are probably bloggers out there with more written and definitely more published to the world, than most fiction writers.
      I’m similar when I’m writing blogs. I just follow the inspiration of the moment. A good strategy I’ve found is writing the blog when I think of it, even if it won’t post right away. It’s interesting to think of the things we do because “this is what everyone was supposed to do.”

  3. I mostly just write, but if i get stuck I find writing a basic outline helps, it’s my way of ‘thinking’ about the novel. My outline comes in the form of bullet points, and I never consider these to be written in stone. If i’m writing and something else happens I just go with it, if the point was a good point and I missed it, I move it elsewhere. My outline for a whole chapter can be as simple as “The Graveyard and the Conversation.”

    • It sounds like you know yourself pretty well. I think that’s the important part for a writer. I know that writing down the plan doesn’t work well for me, so I don’t. You use outlining as a tool to think through the novel, which sounds like a useful process for you. It’s all about finding your won process. Good luck with whatever writing projects you’re working on.

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