There is a lot of debate over outlining, the benefits and drawbacks, methods, and whether it stifles or enhances creativity. Everyone has their own creative process, and outlining and planning have become an indispensable part of mine. And really, it’s one of my favourite parts.
I never used to outline. As a result, I never completed more than 5,000 – 10,000 words of a project, and what I did complete was largely incoherent. Writer’s block was a huge problem, and plot threads limped along aimlessly before wandering off completely and getting lost in the woods, probably to be eaten be wolves.
The planning and outlining process is now one of my favourite stages of writing. I will devote a couple of weeks to developing detailed character profiles and getting to know my cast like family, to plotting out a scene-by-scene outline and developing pages of notes, diagrams, maps, and anything else that takes my fancy.
This is the most creative part of the process for me, and the most fun. There is no pressure, no need to even formulate complete sentences, just the story and the characters and finding out where it all leads. At least with an outline, you know that your project will lead somewhere.
That’s not to say I follow the outline completely to the letter. My characters always develop a life of their own, take the story in new directions, ignore directions they were supposed to take. But the outline simply evolves as the characters do, adding or removing subplots, altering character relationships and dynamics as necessary.
I no longer get writers block because I know the overall story arc, major plot points, subplots and backgrounds before I begin. If I get stuck on one scene, I can just skip to another that I have a clearer vision of. It usually now only takes me around a month or two to churn out a first draft, whereas before outlining I never completed a draft at all.
Of course the first draft is terrible, but that’s what editing is for. The important thing is to have something written down that you can edit. As Shannon Hale says, “I’m writing a first draft and reminding myself that I’m simply shoveling sand into a box so that later I can build castles.”
Everyone has their own process of course, and outlining isn’t for everyone. But if you get frequent problems with writer’s block, or find it hard to complete a project, it might be worth a try.
What do you think? To outline or not to outline?