5 Reasons to Ditch the Outline

Yesterday, I posted eight reasons to outline your work. Today, it’s all about ditching the outline and writing by the seat of your pants.

As I said, I prefer writing without an outline. I do see the benefits of doing an outline, it just doesn’t always work for me. I know a lot of writers live and breathe by their outlines, and there’s nothing wrong with that. I just can’t do it all the time.

And here’s why:

Without an outline…

1. Boredom vanishes. If I outline, I get bored. This is the main reason I don’t do it, and I almost feel like I could stop here and leave you with this lone bullet as an explanation. I just get bored. Incredibly, insanely, bored. And I normally abandon the project because of it. In my head, once I’ve written something, I’m done with it (which is a major problem when it comes to editing, but I won’t get into that now). So if I plan out the ending and every little thing in between in an outline, I’m done with the story by the time I’m done with the outline. It’s finished. Anything I would add at that point I just see as filler.

2. The writing is less formulaic without an outline. You’ve read the books. The ones by the same author, where no matter the name of the character or where the story takes place, it’s still the same story over and over again. I have a sneaking suspicion those authors spend too much time on the outline. Once you know how to outline, you fall into a trap of writing the same one over and over. The climax is exactly 280 pages in, the love story has the first kiss exactly here and so on.

3. You’re not limited to the outline. Here is where die-hard outline fans are foaming at the mouth. To them I say: I realize that the outline can be changed whenever you want. I know it’s also a fluid document. I also know that, subconsciously, and maybe even consciously, you’re more likely to leave the outline as it is. I mean, you did all the work to make it, after all. The pacing, the gorgeous plot you thought up, it all comes crumbling down if you change it halfway through. On the other hand, if you didn’t have a set path in mind, the story can go wherever it wants. Your characters can do whatever they want. I think the story unfolds more organically without the outline.

4. The creative process flourishes. The whole process of writing is a creative process, of course. But to me (and I reiterate, this is my opinion), skipping the outline lets you be more creative throughout the story. You follow your characters down rabbit holes. You add characters, love stories, subplots. The base story becomes something entirely different than you originally imagined. And it’s fantastic.

5. Writing is more fun without the outline. No one wants to be told what to do, even when your past self is the one doing the telling. Isn’t that why we’re writers after all? So we don’t have to listen to the boss man? (Kidding.) When you write by the seat of your pants, you uncover elements of your story that surprise you. Your characters behave as if of their own accord. Sure, you write yourself into a corner, but it’s fun finding the way out. It’s more like reading this way. You’re uncovering as you go, and your story surprises you.

All that being said, writing without an outline requires the writer to be patient with revisions. There will be lots (and lots) of revisions. More so than if you plan it out. So get ready to edit a few pages of your first draft and go, ‘Oh, dear God, this is complete crap!’

Stay the course, though. You’ll fix it. Eventually.

Later this week, I’ll do a post with some tips on keeping your sanity (and protecting that of your readers) while writing without an outline.


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