Sunday, December 20, 2015

On Outlining

So, okay, it’s not a secret.

I dislike outlining.

Did I say dislike?

That's a bit of an understatement.

Ever since I was a student in high school and one of my English teachers required that we create an outline as a way to write a paper, I’ve hated the idea and have resisted it ever since.

I’ll do almost anything to avoid using an outline.

What I prefer instead is to jump into writing without a map (eyes closed!) and begin with only my gut instinct to check my direction.

It’s part of the excitement of writing for me, this swimming without a compass, this not-knowing-where-I’m heading. 

It’s what makes writing feel like a voyage of discovery rather than a stroll down a well-known path or a familiar street.

Without an outline, I can be an explorer and carve a path through the forest where no one has ever stepped before as I progress from one page to the next.

Of course, there’s a downside to this approach. This method often leads—as many of you who work this way already know— to wandering in circles.

Or retracing steps again… and again.

Or getting lost.

I’d be the first to admit that jumping into a story without a plan in mind is not the most efficient way of writing.

And I’ve reached a point in my current project—perhaps I should say I feel as if I’ve reached a dead-end or come to the edge of a cliff—so that now I’m thinking, well, I might just try outlining.

Maybe if I call it “mapping,” I’ll feel differently about it?

Tomorrow morning I’m going to take a blank sheet of paper and a pencil.

I’m not going to put the word “outline” at the top of the paper.

I’m not going to begin with numbers or letters.

I’m going to start with the first word that pops into my head.

And I’m going to print that word in large letters in the center of the page.

And then, depending on what that word generates, I’ll write down as many thoughts or ideas as the word triggers.

I won’t be looking for a linear path to follow yet…just words and ideas and connections.

Let’s see what happens.

P.S. - As we embark on a new year, I hope your search for words and stories and poems continues to bring you joy. Thanks to all for joining me here each month and for inspiring me (even as we inspire each other) to keep writing. See you in 2016!

If you want some tips on outlining your own story, check out:


Bobbi Miller said...

I always outline, although there's nothing formal about it. And, it's never fixed in stone. Rather, it tends to be organic as the writing process. But because I have to weave so many points together (historical facts and setting with my own characters and motivations), I need a map to make sure I am staying on track! A very nice discussion!

Bruce Black said...

Bobbi, I love your idea of using an outline like a map, mostly because in creating a map you have the ability to choose whether to stay on the path or veer off into unknown territory (but still find your way back to the main path). I'll try to think of outlining in this way with my current project, and hope I don't get sidetracked or lost in the process. Thanks for sharing (and for your kind support throughout the year). Hope to see you in the water again in 2016.