With NaNoWriMo in full swing, the O-word is being flung about a lot, and I need to get this off my chest. I’m resurrecting an old post because it is every bit as true today as it was 3 years and 6 novels ago.
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 more 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.