Outlining has a very mixed reputation in the writing world. Some swear by it, some hate it. Lots of us are tied to the strict outlining formats we were taught in high school English. But outlining is extremely important and can be exceedingly helpful when, and hear me out on this, WHEN DONE RIGHT.
Doing it right is different for everyone, but the two groups most people fall into are the ones who feel that outlines are chains restraining their creativity and the ones for whom outlines are safe cuddly places away from all that disorder. You probably know which one you are, so please pay particular attention to the section I’m writing for you.
Outlining Is Slavery
An outline doesn’t have to be a detailed map of scene and conversation you intend to write. It can be a very loose generalized layout of what you want to happen and where you want to go with the story. Odds are you do something like this in your head before you ever start writing, and putting it down onto paper can help clarify it a little bit for you.
Planning where you want the story to go can help you keep moving and can help pull you through bouts of writer’s block. If you know what’s supposed to happen next, you can write your way there even if there isn’t a lot of inspiration or excitement, and you can get onto the fun parts. When you’ve been re-energized by those, you can go back and fix up the dingier bits.
The other thing an outline can do is help you identify what is important to your story. By knowing a bit more about your characters in advance, you’ll be able to write them better in the moment, and you’ll also know what to leave out. Yes, it’s important to leave things out too.
I Outline every page
Know when to step away from your outline. Sometimes even the most careful outline will miss something and a character will grow more and more important as you write them. Know when to back off and adjust the outline.
Secondly, and I know this because I do it myself all the time, don’t outline yourself out of writing. It feels so good to sit down and outline for hours and you feel so accomplished, but you haven’t actually done any writing. Once you have a good idea of where you’re going, start writing.
An outline should be a tool, not a master. It can help you stay on track and keep the inspiration flowing, but it should not be the judge jury and executioner for every idea that you have. Sometimes an idea that works in an outline just doesn’t write well.
Outlines can direct your creativity and help you build structure into your story. It can be that peek over the hill at what’s in the distance that helps you write the bits between here and there. It can increase inspiration and withstand writer’s block.
It works differently for everyone, but it can work for everyone. Experiment with it a little bit, and when NanoWrimo arrives, you’ll have a better idea of where you’re going.
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