When we begin a project, some of us dive right in. Others, outline.
Some outline loosely. Others, beat by beat. Still others, outline later after they’ve written some, when they’re clearer on a natural direction of the piece.
If you’re wondering whether outlining is a necessity for you, try different ways. Learn your strengths.
Here are some helpful questions to ask:
- What are my project’s parameters & how much research is needed?
- What is my deadline, as in, how spot-on do I need to be out of the gate - Or do I have time to play?
- How clearly do I envision my story, the plot, conflicts, main character(s) at this point?
If you are the kind of person who likes to feel their way through a project without too much planning – this is probably the way you feel about a lot of things. You like to dive right in. To someone who is not this way, diving right in would cause great anxiety. But for you, that's the FUN part. And writing is an extension of us, and should reflect us. Let it be a mixture of fun as well as work. Use caution and cater to your strengths. I learned the hard way that I like to write without an outline (just like I do most things), but I needed one when the story veered so far off path I was lost. But I didn't know this about myself at the time. One of my strengths is my plethora of ideas but because they can come rapidly, I am liable to write myself into oblivion if I don't have structure.
It might make sense to dive into a first draft to see what you’re working with. Get your bearings , then go back to create an outline to find where the holes are popping up.
On the flipside, if you are someone who likes to know which direction you are going, create an outline first! Work on this as long as you need (my uncle will work on his for a month. He is a professional writer. He knows himself well. And his projects are serious. After a month of intense research and planning, the screenplay will flow out of him in a matter of weeks. For him, it's all about his outline. Then comes the fun part afterward.
An outline is a proposed plan. It is not carved in stone. It exists to help get your logical mind in order because that's what brains like: understanding.
Research informs an outline but it can also become its own procrastination tool. A loose outline can help us reel it back in. If it’s fiction or a personal essay and you are ready to dive in sans research, you might prefer looking things up as you go! Meaning, there is no one-way. There can't be, there's too many unique differences between writers for there to be one way for writers to work.
For some of us, the process must be a complete letting go so that it comes to life on its own. If your story evolves unexpectedly, just don’t be afraid to start an outline late. Or rework your initial one.. The key to remember is:
+ You can always adjust an outline.
+ Time is valuable.
+ Spend a moment thinking about your strengths and weaknesses. This is how you will power through the tough times: by knowing yourself.