Why haven’t you written the book you want to write – the book you’re meant to write? Maybe you’ll find out here – the number one reason many writers are blocked, frustrated, and disappointed.
A couple days ago, I posted an article by publication coach Daphne Gray-Grant; it described how and why writers should never outline their work.
Gary Horsman was the first (and so far only) writer to comment on this post; he made such a good case for outlining, I had to post it as its own article.
Not only does it describe why outlining is so important, it may contain the reason why so many aspiring writers don’t write.
Why You Haven’t Written the Book You Want to Write
Here’s what Horsman says…
Outlining is a vital part of any well-structured work of creativity, whether it is an essay, novel, fashion item, architectural structure, painting, sculpture, software program or any other work you could name.
I think the inherent problem in 5 Reasons Writers Should Not Outline Articles or Essays is the article author’s conception of what an outline is. There is a strong implication here that outlining involves a strict, rigid, carved-in-stone, linear document that can only pre-exist the work it is trying to structure.
If an outline were simply a written piece of dogma, to be blindly adhered to without any kind of artistic license, then I could understand the objection someone would have to it.
But this is hardly ever the case.
What is an Outline?
Imagine the literal meaning of the word. The picture is that of an overall shape, like the outline of a silhouette or the light pencil lines that a painter puts down before they commit paint to canvas. In neither case does the outline strictly dictate the identity of the person or what the painting will finally look like. The details will eventually make themselves known.
What is an outline but a mind map displayed as a list? And accordingly, isn’t a mind map just an exploded outline? And when the final story or article is written, doesn’t the reader read from start to middle to finish in a linear fashion, much as an outline simply places sign posts for each section and paragraph?
An article well-written already has an implied outline by default. Otherwise, it’s simply a series of disconnected points, devoid of a thread that leads the reader on a journey that enlightens progressively with each step forward on a single path from start to finish.
An Outline Gives You Direction
An outline is a plan. A structure. A direction that marks the basic path from launching point to destination. But there is no rule that says that a few detours can’t be taken along that path to make the journey more interesting.
For my first ‘real’ novel, I used an outline. It was the first time I actually finished a full first draft. Every attempt before failed due to one basic reason: I had no outline. (This is why I think not outlining is the number one reason writers don’t write the books they desperately want to write).
I was wandering in the wilderness without a direction. I’d hit walls, get frustrated and eventually lose interest. By contrast, a structure that indicated where the story would lead the reader was what provided the discipline to fill in the gaps between each literary milestone. I believe this applies even to essays and shorter written works.
But did I follow the strictures of my original outline? No. I embellished the details, improved the story arcs, improvised parts of the plot. What resulted was a better story that was more lush and complex than if had I just gone with what I had at the top of my head.
Outlines Give You Freedom Within Structure to Write Your Book
The structure of a book outline freed me rather than restrained me by allowing me to explore the possibilities and by imposing a disciplined approach, rather than running down rabbit holes that led nowhere and would discourage me from continuing.
You can stumble your way through the dark, and eventually come out the other end. But an outline is like a flashlight. It acts as a guide and exploring becomes an act of discovery. With an outline, there is room for compromise between planning ahead and creatively following options that stray from the original idea, yet retain relevance to the heart of the story.
Like an artist who sketches a figure at first, they can slowly build the details, commit, erase, change, redraw and refine till the picture comes together as a whole. All great artists work this way. But no great artist sets out, paint already stroked out on canvas, not knowing if they’re painting a portrait or a landscape.
There are happy accidents. But seldom are accidents actually happy. In my experience, most accidents are disasters. That’s just the way nature seems to work out.
Fellow scribes, is not outlining the reason you haven’t written your book yet? Or is that too simple, too superficial?
For motivation to write, read 5 Tips for Overcoming Discouragement and Rejection for Writers.
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