To Outline or Not

Back to talking about writing….

Outlining is a hotly debated topic among writers (and the mostly likely to incite a fist fight). Here’s my take on it. There are two types of novelists (a gross generalization, but stick with me).

First are people who rarely, if ever, outline before they write. They may or may not even know how their story ends. These free sprits let their muses and spontaneity guide them.

Advantages of working WITHOUT an outline.
Your writing is a journey of (self) discovery.
Ultimate freedom.
Less preparation.

Disadvantages:
Blind PANIC that you don’t know where your novel is going.
A mess of a first draft.
No marketing tool for your finished novel.

Next are those who use a more craftsmen-like approach. They outline, they know much (if not everything) about their story before they write the first word.

Advantages working WITH an outline:
Story is already plotted out (one less worry for you).
Cleaner first draft.
You have a marketing tool to sell your novel.

Disadvantages:
Less spontaneity and art in your daily writing.
Upfront investment of work and time.

I believe that many writers’ brains are wired to preferentially work one way or the other.

I find, however, that the overwhelming majority of beginning writers do NOT outline. It’s hard work and no one likes hard work. Many stop around page 50 wondering what to do next–or worse, finish their novel and read through it and wonder why all the plot threads are a tangled mess.

If you’re a beginning writer, you owe it to yourself to try it and see if outlining works for you (likewise, if you’re an outliner you should try working without a net). There are many famous, successful, and hip authors in both camps. I am an outliner, and therefore biased, but even if you don’t/can’t/won’t outline—you will have to write one eventually anyway.

Why? Because your agent/editor/publicist is going to ask for one.

I’ll talk more about this next time.

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