Is the Dreaded Outline Really All That Bad?

Today, I’m going to discuss one of the most controversial topics in the writing world: to outline or not to outline? Note – this isn’t going to be an “I outline and you should too or your writing stinks!” post. The whole idea that just one method works for every writer is ridiculous. All I’m going to do is share with you some of the benefits of outlining in case they can benefit you the same way they did me.

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How the Outline Improved My Writing Life

First, I want to share why I’m talking about this in the first place. For some of us, writing is an escape, a way to use catharsis, and for some of us, it’s one of the few good things we have. There have been times where the only thing I had the motivation to do was write – hence my crazy 50k week. June came and I began to edit hopelessly. Nothing was working. I had good characters, but my plot was falling apart. I tried to rewrite in July and that’s when I quit writing.

Or so I thought.

Thanks to a pep talk from the amazing Chloe, I decided writing was worth persevering through the darkest days. I started to learn more about writing than I ever had before, and that’s when I realized in-depth outlining could help me. So, now I’m going to tell you some of the many advantages outlining has to give.

1. It Will Keep Your Drafts at a Good Length

Many writers complain about either drafting books that are too short or too long. If you have an outline, you can prepare yourself in advance by asking: how many scenes do I need to make my book longer? Is this sub-plot really necessary? What can I brainstorm to fill this plot hole and boost my word count?

2. It Will Improve Your Speed

I’ve met many writers who fail to achieve their goals simply because they’ve been fed the false narrative that art should be created in a flurry of inspired passion, that laying out careful plans for crafting stories will only result in boring, unoriginal work…. Making a game plan for success won’t suck the magic out of your writing process, but rather help you avoid as many road blocks and hangups as possible throughout your NaNoWriMo experience.

Thousands, if not more, are currently participating in NaNoWriMo, the epic challenge to write a book in a month.  The writing community, support, and countless writing blog posts are awesome, but the hard part is getting that 50k. If you’re trying to make up your plot while making up your prose at the same time, it’s going to slow down your writing and lessen the quality. The ability to see where going is a huge help if you’re not writing fast enough. Just be careful you’re not letting yourself slip into the endless race of trying to have the fastest writing speed – one of the biggest mistakes I’ve made as a writer.

3. It Will Reduce Edits

If you’ve ever pantsed a novel, you know your drafts come out messy – and that’s an understatement. I’ve given up on entire novels only because of the state of the first draft. Outlining to get the plot the way you want lowers the chances of having to do rewrites. Cringe. One of my favorite outlining activities is brainstorming anything I can think of – then doing it all over again. This lets you get rid of all the bad ideas that won’t work before you waste time writing them out.

The All-Important Question: Should You Be a Planner or Panster?

What I don’t believe anymore is that there is actually such a thing as a “plotter” or a “pantser.” Even though writers certainly fall into general categories of right- or left-brain approaches to the writing process, we’re only distracting ourselves from true productivity with this idea that every writer must be either a plotter or a pantser.

There aren’t really two types of writers. There are just writers. Get out of your comfort zone. If it works, great! If it doesn’t, it doesn’t.

I hope you enjoyed this post! Have you ever used an outline? Do you prefer to plan things out, or make them up as you go along? Are you an “I’m just gonna wing it” person in general? I know I am. In general, is it better to have a routine or be flexible?

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11 comments / Add your comment below

  1. Loved this post! I used to be a total pantser, and then half way through I’d realize I had no idea where I was going and get really discouraged. I haven’t attempted to write a full novel in quite some time, but would really love to. I have some epic ideas and want to get them out on paper (or a Word document). What method of plotting do you use? I’d love to hear about it!

    ~ Ella Marie

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