Reasons I Hate Outlines With A Firey Passion

*I appologize for not getting this up last night. It was late, and some technical glitches were more than I wanted to deal with.

As some of you may have noticed from my previous post, I am not a fan of outlining. In fact, it takes everything I have not to go on a rant about how much I hate them every time I hear writers talking about outlines. After several attempts at outlining before I wrote this year, I have only increased my aversion. Here's why:

  • Outlining is not writing. It feels like writing, and it fools writers into thinking they have done something productive toward their story. But it is not writing. Go write.
  • It takes time away from writing. I keep hearing about how outlining saves time, but time writing is never wasted. Spending three months writing the wrong things on your novel and having to start again is three extra months of practicing writing. Malcom Gladwell discovered in his research for his book Outliers that the difference between an amateur and a prodigy is 10,000 hours of doing whatever we want to be good at! Do you really still want to save time?
  • It locks the brain into rigid thinking. We're no longer holding on to the edge of our seats, excited to see what happens next: writing becomes less of a process of discovery and more of just connecting a series of events together with words.
  • Outlines are boring. Seriously. There is no better way to make me hate doing something than to make me write an outline about it. Unless I have to eat tomatoes while I do it —that might be worse than outlining. Unless it is outlining about tomatoes. Oh gods.
  • Outlines are perfect and polished. Writing is not. The contrast can make all your little perfectionism gremlins come out to play and this can keep you from writing another word.
  • Outlines can make your story sound stupid. Condense any story into its parts, and it sounds like the dumbest thing on earth. And the dumbest idea on earth can be mind blowing in the right hands. (Don't believe me? Outline Romeo and Juliet and then try and tell me why it's such a great love story. But in the hands of the Bard, it has transfixed generations.)
  • Outlines create needless anxiety. It beaks my heart to read so many writers saying things like “I can't get started writing yet, I haven't done my outline.” We need ways to make starting to write easier, not harder. I don't care what successful writer says we should outline first, if it makes us stop writing, then they are not helping
  • Outlines. Are. Not. Writing. FOR THE LAST TIME, GO WRITE.


All of this being said, I know some people work in some backwards fashion and enjoy and utilize outlines. If you are one of these curiosities, stick to what works.

But if you are like me and most people I know, just write. Write, and if you get halfway through and realize you left out something or you need to re-route your story, do it. Rewrite scenes if need be, make notes in the text, and move on through the story.

You know, writing.

When you are done with the first draft, put it away, have a celebratory drink of something fizzy, then go write something else. In a few months, come back to that old messy story and outline it if you really want to.

Or just rewrite it. Whatever works for you.



18 thoughts on “Reasons I Hate Outlines With A Firey Passion

  1. I am one of those backwards people who likes outlines – to a point. I feel the need to organise my thoughts on paper in some fashion, so I have little (colour-coded by storyline) one-sentence summaries of each scene that I can move around within and between chapters. I find it daunting to try to write or do anything big without having any idea of where I’m going, so the outline provides a roadmap that I can change if there’s traffic or prettier scenery in another direction.

    That said, I tried the Snowflake method ( once and got about as far as the one-page summary before I gave up; at that point it became too much like writing without actually being writing, and so I might as well have been doing *actual* writing rather than pretend writing.

    1. I agree completely with you. Outlines can be a nice safety net, as long as they don’t turn into “pretend writing” (perfect term), but all too often they are mistaken for real writing and the words never reach it to the story form.

  2. wow i feel bad that i will be clogging up your “recent comments” column on the side… but i need to let my voice be heard. 😛

    this describes me a lot… i spend my writing time outlining and i feel so accomplished afterwards but… yeah its not writing at all, is it? i spend more time planning than i do *writing*.. sigh…. todays a new day and i can change. (: inspiration again and again ^_^

    1. My dear, you leave the best comments, so fill up whatever you like! Especially if you can forgive my terrible turn-around time on replies.

      It’s always good to reevaluate what we do as writers, if our outline becomes the focus or it the story and craft are. Someday, maybe, when my craft is up to snuff, I may turn to outlines as a new tool, but until then, they are much too comfortable a refuge to turn to when I ought to be just writing.

    1. Not if they help you, not at all. I tend to keep a character bible file on hand so I can remember people’s last names, eye color, what their back story is… All that jazz.

      But for things like NaNoWriMo, I prefer to leave writing these until after the beginning of the month, because technically the words would count toward the total word count ;).

      And if outlining works, I’m all for it. Just most of the time I find that it is a ploy we writers use to never actually get to the first draft.

      The most important question to ask yourself whenever doing pre-planning work is:

      Am I doing this to avoid actually writing, or is this making my writing easier to do immediately?

      1. Yeah… sometimes I find that after I “plan/outline” I find a spot where it’s like “hm. this doesn’t work” and then I never write the story …ever… But if I had actually written it, maybe it would have taken a different turn and have actually worked. You know what I”m saying? 🙂

  3. Great post! I also do not outline. I tried it and it drove me crazy. My characters never wanted to stay with the plan. My stories play out in my mind and I write when it comes to me. I do know many writers create and use outlines and I remember learning to do just that, but I dislike fitting my creative flow into outlines I usually end up cutting the string and letting those characters carry on.

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