It never ceases to amaze me how some writers are so anti-outlining. I’m really not trying to judge anyone’s process here, but for me the benefits of outlining far outweigh any perceived drawbacks. For example, today I read about a writer who stated they don’t outline because they don’t want to feel stuck in a box, but then the writer proceeded to say how writing first drafts is always pure agony for them.
Wouldn’t it be better to take a few weeks or a few months to outline first, to avoid all that agony?
I understand that every creative person’s process is different, and I’ll be the first to say that writing a novel is hard, but I don’t believe we need to make it even harder for ourselves than it already is.
Writing an outline doesn’t mean that you’re suddenly boxed in. If something magical happens during the writing and you need to change the direction of the story, that’s okay too. Do it up! Writing an outline simply means doing a lot of the agonizing beforehand. And rather than feeling boxed in, when I finally had an outline for my novel, I felt like I finally really knew my characters because I had taken the time to get to know them while outlining.
Writing, even a first draft, doesn’t have to be pure agony. I don’t subscribe to that. And if it turns out that you have to scrap the entire first draft anyway, then at least you’re only out a few months rather than several years.
I agree with Liz Gilbert in her book Big Magic that we are so often compelled to view the creative process as this romantically tortuous experience. That we must let the Muse flow through us as conduits for its message and that the process is pure suffering as we crumple up sheet after sheet of paper, agonizing over the characters, story, setting, and dialogue, while tearing our hair out and bleeding from our hearts.
But, Gilbert, asks, what about the joy of writing?
Not only does an outline help you figure out the story first, thereby saving time no matter what the outcome, it actually brings the joy back to writing.
At least it does for me.