To outline, or not is a question frequently asked at the San Francisco Writer’s Conference. The answer not only differs between authors, it depends on whether you are writing fiction or nonfiction. SF Writer's Conference speakers repeatedly emphasized that nonfiction writers must use outlines. This makes sense because their facts must be accurate, sequential, and have relevance. To properly convey a topic, nonfiction builds like a math problem. I’m no mathematician, but I do understand that X times Y equals Z. In writing, if the reader doesn’t understand the X or the Y, they will never come up with Z.
In fiction, the principles remain the same except that fiction allows more twists and turns. Because fiction writing is inventive, many authors feel an outline will stifle their creative thoughts. But then you have James Patterson, one of the best outliners in the business, who cannot work without them because he has others writing his stories for him. The more detailed an outline, the easier it is for Patterson’s co-writers to mimic his thoughts. But what about the writers who have had stories gelling in their heads for months or years, and when he/she finally sits down at the computer, their stories flow like molasses? Judging from the raised hands I saw at the SF Writer’s Conference, it seems the majority of fiction writers prefer shooting from their hips than using outlines.
The “pro” of no outlining is the freedom to write uninhibited. The “con” of no outlining is authors must go back and create their outline to ensure everything flows, makes sense, and summarizes their story for queries and book descriptions. In this regard, outlining seems inescapable. So, for the benefit of other writers, let’s take a poll. How many draft their novels using outlines, how many don’t, and why?