Do I Need an Outline?

If you’d asked me this question a few years ago, I would have said yes, you need one. Then I wrote a story as an exercise, I didn’t think about an outline until I was about halfway through, and the only reason I created an outline was so I didn’t forget what I wanted to do. Now when I say outline, it was a very loose outline with a few key points or scenes.

After I’d gone through this exercise, I decided I’d meticulously outline my next story before I wrote it. Something unexpected happened. When I completed the outline, I had no desire to write it. The story was done and my muse was gone. I had taken an idea and over-planned it to the point that the story no longer held my interest as a creative venture.

As I analyzed my behavior, I realized I was still trying to follow an outdated idea that we must use an outline. How many of us were forced to outline term papers for teachers and professors? The wisdom to outline does not fit every author’s writing style. It certainly didn’t fit mine. As I looked back on my term papers in high school or the countless projects and papers I wrote in college, I realized I never outlined. Did I get a mediocre grade? Not at all. I usually received an A for my efforts and when an outline was required, I wrote it after the fact.

Does this mean we should never outline? No. I still outline, especially if I have to speak in front of a group. It keeps my panicked thoughts organized and grounds me so I don’t lose sight of my speech as my voice shakes with nerves. But for other writing ventures, I don’t outline that much, including for this article. Why? Because I find that if it’s a subject I’m passionate about, I’d rather have the article develop organically and not forced to be something it isn’t destined to be.

Now I know there are just as many writers out there who outline as those who don’t. Is there a right or wrong answer to the question “Do I need an outline?” No. What’s important is you find what works for you. If you need to outline every scene and create detailed character studies, then do it. If this stifles your create muse, then don’t. What’s important is you find the system that works best for you and don’t worry if you’re style is different from someone else.

What works for you? Are you a planner or do you like to fly by the seat of your pants? Let us know in the comments below. Happy writing!


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