by Linda Thorne
A couple of months ago, I moderated an author’s panel on this subject at the 14th Annual Killer Nashville International Writer's Conference. The topic is one that’s applicable to many writers. I found it interesting that all the authors on this panel, like me, write without an outline. I thought this either a huge coincidence since there were six of us in total or else it's evidence that most writers do not use outlines.
Authors are divided into two factions: those who outline and those who do not or more loosely, plotters and pantsers. I’ve heard the two camps discuss the topic in person and in blog debates, each side harboring strong opinions. Arguments can become intense with no one willing to budge from their position.
What I learned from the authors on this panel last August is although they claimed to be pantsers, none were. They may not outline, but they have other tools that guide them and keep them on target. I use copies of calendar months I print off from Outlook. I’ll scribble them down initially and when it gets too messy, I’ll type the list in Word in small font, print and cut and tape the typed wording onto each day in each month of my book's time frame. Sometimes there’s a transition and I’ll line through a week or so. I don’t need too many words to describe anything. Only a couple of words to trigger a scene or to state a new character is “on stage,” which means their first appearance. Others use different methods to look at the whole picture, or chunks of it.
Toward the end of this panel, I told the panelists and those who attended the session about my favorite article of all time on this topic. I found it by accident a few years ago, and I’ve kept it, reread it from time to time to keep myself focused. "Go Organic" by Steven James – Writer's Digest March/April 2013. I’ve copied the first part of this article below:
“I have a confession to make.
When I was in school and a teacher would assign us to write an outline for a story, I’d finish the story first, then go back and write the outline so I’d have something to turn in. Even as a teenager I thought outlining was counterintuitive to the writing process.”
6 Secrets of Writing Without an Outline
Above is the link for his republished version of Go Organic that he put on the blogpost, The Writer’s Dig, on October 15, 2013.
I honestly believe the old outline we were taught to use in high school and college is outdated. I’ve read that if you don’t use an outline, you’ll spend the same amount of time, if not more, by writing without it. I agree with that, but like Steven James, I can’t outline. I’ve tried and it doesn’t work for me. I know it takes me at least the same amount of time writing an outline would to find the controls to get the story in proper prospective, but I need to use what works for me.
What about you? Do you outline or do you simply start writing to see where it will lead you or, do you go organic with a plan that works for you?
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