5 Reasons Writers Should Not Outline Articles or Essays

I never outline my magazine articles, book ideas, or essays, so when I found this article on the reasons writers should not outline their work, I was thrilled!

Here’s what Publication Coach Daphne Gray-Grant says:

“When I was a sullen high school student, many of my teachers demanded that we submit outlines with every essay. We fooled most of them by writing our essays first and creating the outlines afterwards.

However, one of our more devious teachers insisted that we submit the outlines several weeks before sending in the essay. Talk about irritating! Even a group of know-it-all teenagers couldn’t figure out the clear solution was to do the whole damn project early enough to write the outline afterwards!”

Below, Gray-Grant describes why she doesn’t think writers should outline their work. Read through her thoughts, and let me know if you agree with her…

5 Reasons Writers Should Not Outline Articles or Essays

Guest Post ~ Daphne Gray-Grant

All these years later, I believe I was correct in abhorring outlines.

Are you a writer who thinks I’m crazy to counsel AGAINST outlining? Read on to learn why I think outlining is one of the worst things a writer can do…

Outlines kill your creativity

Outlines, which are linear and logical, force you to use the linear and logical part of your brain. What’s so bad about logic, you ask? Well, nothing…EXCEPT when you’re trying to do something creative, like, say, writing. Then, logic is the last thing you want. Sure, when you’re solving a math problem you need logic. Ditto for following a recipe or editing something.

But, when you’re painting a picture or creating a song or writing an article you want your creative brain to be in charge. All of our brains have logical parts and creative parts. In my more fanciful moments, I like to imagine them as people in a car. But guess what? Only one part of your brain can be driver. If your logical brain is driving, your creative brain is asleep in the back seat. (Either that or really disgruntled about not controlling the wheel.)

Outlines mute rather than enhance the urge to tell stories

Probably the worst aspect of outlining is that, by its nature, it emphasizes the importance of fact over story. But as the writer Maya Angelou puts it: “There’s a world of difference between truth and facts. Facts can obscure truth.”

Readers respond to stories. Stories keep them interested and engaged. Your writing needs stories as pizza needs cheese. I’ve never seen an outline that includes enough stories. One of the most important reasons writers should not outline their work is because it decreases the story-telling aspect.

For tips on using stories in your writing, read 7 Reasons Writers Are Fools If They Don’t Tell Stories.

Outlines turn writing into a duty rather than something that’s fun

Consider an outline for an article or essay that you produced in the past. Did it fill your heart with joy? Did it make writing a pleasure? Did it make your writing seem urgent and important? If it did any of these things you are the exception proving the rule.

Writers should not outline articles or essays or essays because outlines generally turn writing into just another “to do” task that causes you to feel worn out and dispirited.

Outlines organize your writing

I say this somewhat sadly because I’m exuberant about the benefits of being well organized. I like nothing better than a thoroughly clean desk, a tidy closet and even a tax return that’s submitted a few days early. But when it comes to writing, I most definitely don’t want to be organized. Instead, I want to be inspired. Outlines simply aren’t capable of that task.

Outlines lead to dull, stale writing

Here’s what happens when you get organized and logical: you suck the life out of your writing. You stop taking risks. You stop being interesting. You stop making discoveries. In the end, you’re left with the same product as a person who has completed a paint-by-numbers piece of art. It may look “perfect” -– but it’s also perfectly predictable.

Instead of outlining, I urge writers to rely on mindmapping. Mindmapping is a highly creative process that gives you access to the deep recesses of your mind. It will help you find stories to tell. It will liberate your writing.

Writer's Market 2020: The Most Trusted Guide to Getting Published
Writer's Market 2020: The Most Trusted Guide to Getting Published - Yes, you CAN get published! It's not impossible - but only if you're willing to do the work. Writer's Market 2020 offers thousands of opportunities for writers, including listings for book publishers, consumer and trade magazines, contests and awards and literary agents — and even new playwriting and screenwriting sections.

To learn more about mind mapping, read Mind Mapping for Writers – How to Mind Map a Story or Article.

A former daily newspaper editor, Daphne Gray-Grant is a writing and editing coach and the author of the popular book 8½ Steps to Writing Faster, Better. She offers a brief and free weekly newsletter on her website. Subscribe by going to The Publication Coach.

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