To Outline or Not to Outline

As a writer, I like to hear the opinions other people have about writing. From outlining, to drafting, to editing. Sometimes what they say is similar to what I do while other times, it is very different. So I thought I would add to the noise and post my own thoughts and techniques.

One argument that I hear a lot is whether someone should outline their book before writing or jump in headfirst. One argument against outlining is that some say it restricts creativity, that you are confined by what you have put into the outline. I, myself, am an outliner. I have made one where I outlined each and every scene in the book by chapters (The Royal Thirteen) to only writing general ideas for the beginning, middle, and end of a book (The Desert Seer). Either way, I never felt confined by the outline. For me, it is like a guide or a map. You may pick a route before you leave but on your way, you might find a shorter route, a longer scenic route, or you might change your destination entirely.

I stuck strictly to the outline in The Royal Thirteen, but in my series A Realm Hereafter, scenes were added while others were omitted. In ARH many of my characters had endings planned out as early as when I finished The King’s Son. However, by the end, only the two MAIN characters had their endings remain the same. The four major characters had endings that were wildly different from what I originally had down for them. This is because the storyline changed as I wrote it. I didn’t let my outline confine my creativity. It simply gave me a direction. And as the route changed, the characters had to adjust.

Perhaps you have to be a certain kind of person to have an outline but not be defined by it. To me, it’s not a prison cell as some seem to think it is.

Another debate I’ve heard is how to write the first draft of a manuscript. I’ve heard of writers who write one page and will not move past it until it is “perfect”. Then there are people who blow through the first draft, not worrying about perfection until the editing round. As for me? I fall into that second category. Maybe that’s because I don’t stick solely to an outline and I allow my story to change as I write it. In the past, I’ve gone back and deleted scenes or had to change them because of how the story turned out. Therefore, I don’t want to “waste” time perfecting something that might eventually change. I just want to get the story down on paper. That’s my only goal for a rough draft.

Finally, yet another opinion I’ve heard is to not force your writing. Creativity will be harmed if you force it and your writing will turn out terrible. Yikes! But guess what? I have these magical things called an eraser and a delete button. If what I write turns out awful, I just whip out these magic items and, presto, the offending passages vanish! I know, quite impressive… Okay, so setting aside my sarcasm now.

For me, I have to force myself to write. Even if I’m not “inspired”. This is because writing is like a musical instrument. You must practice so that you can become better at it and you must continue to practice to maintain your skills. Even if it’s difficult to get my ideas down on paper, it’s even more difficult for me to come back to writing after a long (or even short) hiatus. I get out of the habit and my writing becomes less refined. (Not sure that’s the best word but we’ll go with it). I love to write and I want to maintain it to the best of my ability. And if it’s not great, well that’s what editing if for folks.

So my advice? Use an outline. Or don’t. Force your creativity. Or don’t. It doesn’t matter what I say or what I do. What matters is what works for you. If you love to write as much as I do, you’ll read someone’s opinion, nod politely and then figure out what works for you. So good luck!

Happy writing.