Why I Don’t Outline

“Planning to write is not writing. Outlining, researching, talking to people about what you’re doing, none of that is writing. Writing is writing” — E.L. Doctorow

That quote is the pinnacle of my argument.

So often I hear about people writing detailed outlines. I hate outlining. I hate it, and I’m not ashamed to admit it. I have tried and tried and tried, and each time I fail I think, “Oh, maybe it will be easier next time.” Well, it isn’t. As I shared in a previous post My 2013 Writer Goals, I planned to outline the fourth draft of CURSED before I wrote it. I’m pretty much forced to accept the fact that I’m not going to be able to outline, because that’s just not how my mind works. I don’t plan things. I’m not a structured person. My writing folder is a mess, with bits and pieces of novels here, there, and everywhere. My room is a mess. And generally, so is my writing. But that’s OK, because that’s just what it is. The first draft is a mess, the second is a little better, ect, ect … I’ve figured that the first draft of my novels are always going to be crappy, so there’s just no point in wasting time outlining it before anyway. It’s just going to change later. If anything, for me, outlining is procrastination from actually doing the writing.

But every writer is different. I know that there are people out there who swear by outlining, who find comfort in having everything planned out. That’s fine, but I’m just not that person. I’m beginning to learn that I am a trial-by-error sort of writer. I find out what works for me and what doesn’t. There’s also that belief that outlining kills creativity. I can see what people mean by that — if I know exactly what is going to happen in each scene, in each chapter, then I will lose interest in the story.

In saying all that however, I don’t completely wing it. Ideas come at me a million miles per hour, so I have a notebook that I write everything down in. Sometimes I don’t even write it down, sometimes I just let the idea float around in my head for a few months before I write it. I’ll merge different ideas together until it forms a basic structure of a story, and that’s when I’ll begin the novel. Characters, setting, names, and plot all develop as I write . I might have vague ideas about what I want people/places to look like though nothing is set in concrete. The same goes with plot. When I first write a story I only have a blurry idea of what it’s going to look like when it’s finished, and as the novel goes on, it becomes steadily clearer. I think part of the reason why I don’t outline is because I don’t like to feel as though I’m trapped into moving in one way.

That’s it for this week, guys!

Do you outline? Why or why not?

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4 thoughts on “Why I Don’t Outline

  1. Nice post! I outlined my NaNoWriMo novel, but only because I was terrified of not finishing otherwise. I’ve got a new novel drifting around in my head, but I think I might try winging it this time – see what happens!

    • Thanks! I’ll admit that I did plan my NaNoWriMo novel a tiny bit — just because it was NaNoWriMo and like you, I was worried that I wouldn’t be able to finish it otherwise. But it wasn’t like a chapter-by-chapter sort of outline. They bore me too much, heh. And you might as well give it a go, to see if it’s for you or not. (:

  2. Great post.
    I’ve flopped back and forth between outlining and not outlining, trying to find out what works best for me. Oddly enough, I like almost everything in my life to be organised. My room is always neat and tidy and everything has its place. However, I really struggle to outline. Usually I have a rough outline of sorts in my head, but I really have difficulty putting it on paper. On the other hand, when I don’t outline, I end up getting stuck repeatedly while writing because I don’t know where I’m going.
    Recently though I discovered a new strategy called ‘dot to dot writing’ which I think is the perfect merge for me between plotting and pantsing. Before you write you basically have a list of scenes that you know are going to happen but no idea what happens in between. When you sit down to write you basically just connect the dots, that way you still have the creative freedom of pantsing and the general direction of outlining. I’m really hoping this technique works for me.

    By the way, I’m really enjoying your blog.

  3. Thanks, I’m glad you like it. :D

    In a way, I guess I pretty much use the dot-to-dot idea as well, I just don’t write it down. I brainstorm a few key points in my head — maybe it might be the beginning, middle, and end — and when I write I just fill in the gaps. Good luck with trying it, I hope it works. (:

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