Are you tired of beating yourself up for not writing your book? Maybe you have a story you’ve been trying to write for months, or even a chapter you should’ve written years ago. What if not outlining your book is the reason why you’re struggling to write your book? Good news! Here you’ll find the most powerful way to overcome that obstacle.
A couple days ago, I wrote an article called 5 Reasons Writers Should Not Outline Articles or Essays. It was an article by a publication coach and published author; she said writers should never outline their books before they write them. A published author called Gary gave me so much good information about outlining before writing a book, I had to share it with you. Maybe not outlining is the reason why you haven’t written your book yet.
Here’s why outlining your book is so important — especially for writers struggling to write their books. You may find the motivation, discipline and energy you need to start writing the book that’s been in you for years!
Outlining your book before you write it 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 the publication coach’s writing advice her 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. Outlining your book doesn’t chain you to the outcome. On the contrary, outlining gives you freedom to move and breathe life into your book.
What is an Outline of a Book?
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.
Outlining Your Book Will Give You Direction and Focus
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.
Outlining Your Book Offers “Freedom Within Structure”
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. Outlining your book 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; some books are written without outlines. Some books are even published without outlines. But seldom are accidents actually happy. In my experience, most accidents are disasters. So if you want to avoid a disaster — which you’ll find plenty of in 17 Reasons Manuscripts are Rejected by Book Publishers and Editors — then you’ll outline your book.
And voila! No longer do you have a reason for not writing your book. 🙂
Fellow scribes, why haven’t you written your book yet? If you haven’t tried outlining, give it a whirl! The worst thing that can happen is you don’t write your book…which you’re already not doing. What do you have to lose?
If you’ve already written your book and are dealing with limp responses from publishers, editors and literary agents, read 5 Ways to Keep Writing Despite Multiple Rejection Letters.