Writing Advice: Outlining


In the past, I have discussed the process of outlining. I don’t think it’s any secret, then, that I enjoy outlining. Having an outline gives me a framework to work off as I write. It reminds me what needs to come next, where I’m headed in general, and the major plot points that I need to hit. In general, when I’m starting a writing project, I begin with an outline. Once I have a vague idea of what I want the story to be about, my first step is to write the outline so that I have that as I begin to actually write. But a different process has been brought to my attention recently, and it’s rather intriguing.

In the Writer Unboxed blog post entitled 10 Tips About Process, the author mentioned outlining in #8 on her list. She says, “Outline, but not too early. Then follow the outline: I don’t outline until I’m well into the first draft and certain I know my characters well enough to understand their motivations. If I outline too early, I become blocked.”

My first reaction to this was that I probably wouldn’t try this. To me, an outline is one of the first things that needs to be done in a writing project, so why put it off? But the more I thought about it, the more I thought that it might be a good idea. There have been a few writing projects with which I’ve struggled, even with an outline in place. During these projects, I’ve written aimlessly — sometimes for about 10,000 words — just discovering who the characters were. Most of that early work can’t be used in the final draft because it’s aimless and was only for myself. Perhaps if I did this discovery writing first, then began an outline, that would be beneficial.

If you’re having trouble with something you’re working on at the moment, perhaps you should take a step back and do some discovery writing before outlining to see where your story stands. If you already have an outline that you’re working with, consider scrapping it and starting from scratch to get a new view of the project.

Where do you stand on outlining? When in the process of a writing project do you typically write your outline? Share in the comments!

— Jet Fuel Blog Editor, Mary Egan


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