Bitching About Outlines

If you’re here expecting a little rant about the necessary evil of outlines, but how I’ll persevere to get better at them because that’s what Real Writers do, you’re in the wrong room. Go look at some lolcats or something. Or feel free to stick around, but remember that I already told you this won’t end how you want.

Outlines are evil..

Something has gone wrong this month. And last month. The words just aren’t happening. I have a good premise, great characters, and even some good plot twists. My shitty first drafts are not nearly as shitty as they were in January.

Everything should be going well.

But they aren’t.

I decided to try sketching out a loose outline instead of my usual style of “readysetgo!” I found the idea in some book or other and thought it would be great material to blog about.

I wrote a loose outline for last month. Then, proceeded to write anything but that story and research myself to death, only to end up writing thirty five thousand words in that last week.

This month, again, I wrote an outline, thinking it might help me avoid fatigue. Now, when I sit to write, I end up staring at the outline and trying to figure out what to write next. I try to understand the ending before I’ve even gotten there. Then, I put the outline aside and stare at my screen… And the perfectionist voice starts to chime in.

“Oh you think you want to write that ending, do you?”

“Gee, this story looks a lot like those books you read over and over last year. Can’t you find something else to do?”

“If your story is going to be this predictable, then why don’t you go research some of those college degrees you could have? I hear there’s a shortage of economics professors.”

“Is writing making you fat? Your butt looks kind squishy,”

“I mean really, how many more times can you write a story with a love triangle, anyway?”

I’ll spare you the rest – you get the idea. I’ve been stifled, fighting myself as much as I fight for time to fit words in. Hell, I’ve barely even blogged; it takes too much energy to fight the perfectionism monster just to get fiction in, and for the first time in a while, I can’t find the off button.

It didn’t even occur to me until today that the outline could be the problem. I write to find out what story I’m telling. I like plunge in, letting my hands type on, under the complete influence of my writing mind and my intuition. The story is alive and breathing, it worms into my skull and I am excited to get back and find out what is going to happen next.

The outline already tells the story. It’s dead, it’s theoretical, it holds no mystery at all. I know it all needs to be written, but the joy of it has been bled out by even a rough little list of events leading to an ending. It’s all there, no point in me doing a damn thing. I skip straight to second-draft mode where I obsess over details and flesh out the story and write much tighter prose. I freeze up. And I hate it.

The outline must die.

I suppose it could be argued, especially since I rallied against ignoring the perfectionism monster previously, that I ought to employ the same tactics and keep the outline.

But why? Because outlines are so damn great? Because that’s what Real Writers do?

Some people have likened outlines to the storyboards film directors use to have a rough idea of how to shoot the movie. They say that writers need that kind of thing too. Yes, great, but the last time I checked the film was already written. The two processes cannot be compared.

Another argument for outlines is that is saves time in the writing of the story. This, at least for this writer, is demonstrably untrue. I wrote 50,000 words in a week in march, outline free. It even had a beginning, middle, end, central conflict et al.

And as for what Real Writers do, I’ve done a helluva lot of research on this, on blogs and books and interviews and other things, and the only thing Real Writers do consistently is write. A lot.

Therefore, anything that prevents me from writing a lot makes me less of a writer.

And I made a new rule as I watched my pretty little outline catch fire and curl into black and orange soot.

Burn away everything that makes you less of what you want to be.

I feel better now.

5 thoughts on “Bitching About Outlines

  1. Thanks for this. I thought I was the only writer who hates outlining. The only time I do it is when I’m stuck somewhere where it would be rude to drag out my laptop or iPad to actually write when the good idea fairy shows up.

  2. I’ll agree that outlines for someone who writes 12 novels in 12 months might find them tedious; most authors who write a lot may not need that “fine tooth comb” quite so often, but for someone who is either fighting writer’s block, has never written a novel or is returning to book writing, it *can* be an invaluable tool.

    Not all mechanics need the same tools every time, though. I remember when I gave outlines up once upon a time warp ago. I found myself sitting at the End of the Universe, having completely lost track of my towel.

  3. I guess I live I between the two worlds. I have an outline for my stories. But it’s all in my head. I never write it down. I can’t imagine telling a story without having a vague idea about where it will end. Without a written outline though, I’m free to write like a Texas Farm-to-Market road. You’re going to get from Karnak to Elysian Fields (those are real places BTW), but you’ll meander back and forth to visit every farmhouse and ranch along the way. My first NaNo novel in 2009 started as a single scene in my head that wouldn’t leave me alone for a couple of years. When I finally took the plunge and decided to do NaNoWriMo that year, in a brilliant flash that scene became an entire novel, with a definite beginning, middle, and end. I even knew where in the story that original scene would be. The only thing my conscious mind had to do was decide to make one of the two characters in that scene the antagonist. But having that outline in my head didn’t keep me from spontaneously including as I was writing the particularly gruesome death of one of my minor characters in order to get a main character out of the picture for a period of time, which in turn prevented a major stumbling block in my plot development. And I didn’t even realize that I had done this, that it had to be that way, until I came back and read it again a couple of months later! My current WIP is the same way. I have a mental outline but it has been warped and twisted numerous times since its inception, even to the point of a change from 1st person POV to 3rd person POV. But I am still excited about writing it; it won’t let me go, much like your facehugger novel.

    What has helped me keep interested in this story is to let a few trusted friends actually read portions of the semi-shitty draft 1.5 (or is it version 1.8 by now? I keep losing track). They all are dying to see where I’m going with the story. At this point, they won’t let me get away with not finishing it!

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