Outline vs. Just Start Writing

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This topic contains 39 replies, has 13 voices, and was last updated by  Anonymous 4 weeks ago.

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  • #347028

    dlathrop824R
    Participant

    I’m new, to both this site and to writing, so forgive me if this has already been asked. Do more people here get started by doing an outline, as so many books recommend, or do most just start writing as if it’s the final product then revise as needed? Curious to hear what the “real world” does.

  • #656082

    Anonymous

    I just dive in and write. I can’t force myself to plan.

  • #656083

    Anonymous

    You have to discover that for yourself. If you already have some scene ideas, it can’t hurt to sketch them out. If you have a general idea, again, can’t hurt to hash it out like a synopsis. Some people are meticulous outliners, like James Patterson. But, that style isn’t for everyone. Personally, I just dive in. I have my ideas that I sometimes flesh out but I generally hit the ground running. But when it comes to rewrites, there is when I may look to structure out the story more, trim the fat, add where needed, etc… Writing is an art form, you have to find the flow that works for you.

  • #656084

    Anonymous

    Suspicious.

  • #656085

    margery65w
    Participant

    bkawriter wrote:
    > I’m new, to both this site and to writing, so forgive me if this has
    > already been asked. Do more people here get started by doing an outline, as
    > so many books recommend, or do most just start writing as if it’s the final
    > product then revise as needed? Curious to hear what the “real
    > world” does.

    Some do , some don’t.

    I am guessing but I suspect there are more pantsers than plotters here.

    The real world does both.

    I am using a statistical data sample, but in the real world of fiction there appear to be more plotters than pantsers.

    The best advice seems to be to use what works best for you.

  • #656086

    margery65w
    Participant

    Burningthyself wrote:
    > Suspicious.

    ???

    What is suspicious ?
    That seems like a normal question for someone who is new to writing fiction.

    Non fiction, IMHO, seem to be planners although the length of the work makes a big difference.

    For NF, when doing something small, it is easier to pants and revise as part of the planning to save work.
    For something large it is usually easier to plan and then pants the details into the outline and revise.

  • #656087

    Anonymous

    bkawriter wrote:
    > I’m new, to both this site and to writing, so forgive me if this has
    > already been asked. Do more people here get started by doing an outline, as
    > so many books recommend, or do most just start writing as if it’s the final
    > product then revise as needed? Curious to hear what the “real
    > world” does.

    Depends on the writer. Start out with whatever method intuitively seems right for you – you may find it doesn’t really work that well OR that it lets the story flow right out. And don’t forget that you can use elements of outlining along with elements of organic writing – there are no rules as to how you have to get the words on paper.

    Personally, the only way I can write effectively, productively (and happily) is to take an idea or a character and start writing. I may take a few hours to get that first sentence or paragraph, because that tells me the tone of the story, but then I’m off and running. I do my research as I go, making sure I know that what my character is going to do can be done and how to do it, where it’s going to happen and how they’re going to get there. The closest I get to actual planning is when it comes to that decision tree moment – take a right or take a left? Depends on what seems most interesting from where I’m standing. I edit as I go, and whatever I write has to follow logically what I’ve already written. The thing I like about editing that way is that I don’t have this huge rewrite after I’ve already spent so much time on the thing I’m sick of it. (I just read some of the stuff I wrote nearly 10 years ago and I only found a handful of things I might have changed and none that would have involved an actual rewrite, so I must be doing something right 😀 ).

    But that’s just how I do it. And in the end, how any other writer writes doesn’t mean anything. Get ideas from other writers, take a snippet here and a dash there, and see what works best for you.

  • #656088

    Anonymous

    As others have said, there’s no “rule” to this. Not literally *or* figuratively.

    Writing is an art. Like painting or sculpture, any art really, we each have to find the way that works for us individually.

    Maybe you need to storyboard the plot. Maybe I need the characters to become real people in my own head, so they can tell me their story. Maybe you treat each scene like an independent work, putting them together in whatever order fits the plot at the end. Maybe you need a mind map. Maybe you need a formula, like Bob Ross did for landscape painting.

    I can’t tell you what does or will work for you. I can tell you what works for me.

  • #656089

    margery65w
    Participant

    RobTheThird wrote:
    > As others have said, there’s no “rule” to this. Not literally
    > *or* figuratively.
    >
    > Writing is an art. Like painting or sculpture, any art really, we each
    > have to find the way that works for us individually.
    >
    > Maybe you need to storyboard the plot. Maybe I need the characters to
    > become real people in my own head, so they can tell me their story. Maybe
    > you treat each scene like an independent work, putting them together in
    > whatever order fits the plot at the end. Maybe you need a mind map. Maybe
    > you need a formula, like Bob Ross did for landscape painting.
    >
    > I can’t tell you what does or will work for you. I can tell you what works
    > for me.

    In my art classes and textbooks they showed the old masters doing a lot of planning first.
    First they envisioned what the final would be like and how they wanted to do it.
    And then they would sketch rough outlines of the image on their medium.
    Then they refine that to make sure everything fits together properly.
    Only then do they start applying colorant to the ground.

    For abstract art and some scams the artist would just start painting whatever they felt like.
    In bad scams they had other people do the work and added a drop of paint at the end so they could claim some famous name did it.
    Some people even buy the ‘art’ that was made with a brush on some animal who ‘painted’ the image that way.

    For true abstract work I can see how that might be a better approach that somehow captures something in the brain you cant predefine.

    We never tried just painting in class as it would seem to require more time and material$ to adjust the final image to make everything fit.
    I can see how some genii like Picasso could do it. I know that I needed to sketch out the image first and still it was work to complete the image.

  • #656090

    Anonymous

    I like this video from YouTube:

    https://youtu.be/YEZaE4-6MHs

    Watch it. Watch the apparent randomness. Watch the final outcome. Then think about what it took to make that happen.

    That, for me, is writing. The appearance of chaos that is actually the product of real work.

  • #656091

    margery65w
    Participant

    RobTheThird wrote:
    > I like this video from YouTube:
    >
    > https://youtu.be/YEZaE4-6MHs
    >
    > Watch it. Watch the apparent randomness. Watch the final outcome. Then
    > think about what it took to make that happen.
    >
    > That, for me, is writing. The appearance of chaos that is actually the
    > product of real work.

    I have to think the performer in your link was especially skilled and knew how to make that image emerge including how to sketch out what was to be eliminated when he threw the white powdery stuff at the canvas; and that if we tried to do it the results would not be nearly as good.

    Chaos theory shows that stability can emerge at times from apparently complete randomness.
    Systems engineering departments teach that it emerges better with planning.

    If you just want *something* good then you can try randomness.
    There are other techniques to help with creativity if that is what is needed to move forward.
    If you want something with specific characteristics then planning usually helps.
    I guess that most of us would be happy to finish any novel and be able to say it was good.

    Personally, I would use randomness at times to help make decisions and move things along.
    And then combining that with focused planning to guide the direction I would like it to move.

    In particular getting the plotline idea initially would be a perfect place to try random things to see what clicks. Then toss the bad ideas.
    For me then using other creative techniques for ideas of scenes to implement the log line makes more sense than just writing to see where it all ends up.
    YMMV.

    There are online generators. I got this one in about a minute using one. I think this is one to be tossed, but might help jumpstart your thinking.

    Random Random
    An original screenplay concept by Author, The

    Science Fiction:A computer hacker teams up with a unemployed writer to find kidnapped daughter.
    As the story unfolds, the computer hacker doesn’t want to rescue with a computer hacker.
    By the finale, they manage to hijack 6 computer networks, recover the child unharmed and win the respect of computer hackers.
    Think Titanic meets Forest Gump.

    Here is a related idea one person uses that is counter intuitive to conventional wisdom.
    http://blog.bookbaby.com/2018/05/look-for-ideas-in-all-the-wrong-places/

    And this one http://blog.bookbaby.com/2018/03/what-writing-rules-do-you-live-by/
    about writing rules says
    ” Writing is a complex matter, covers a huge range of subjects, and there are as many ways to write as there are writers.
    Each author writes differently, is at a different stage in his/her career, and has unique writing goals. Hence, floods of “rules.” “

    Whatever floats your boat.
    One size fits nobody.

  • #656092

    Anonymous

    noobienieuw wrote:

    “there are as many ways to write as there are writers”

    That is the Truth, right there.

    And quite frankly, no matter how perfect the system a writer has developed for themselves, there inevitably comes a book that simply will not be written that way. I haven’t come up against mine yet, but I’m sure it’s out there, lying in wait…

  • #656093

    margery65w
    Participant

    ostarella wrote:
    > noobienieuw wrote:
    >
    > “there are as many ways to write as there are writers”
    >
    >
    >
    > That is the Truth, right there.
    >
    > And quite frankly, no matter how perfect the system a writer has developed
    > for themselves, there inevitably comes a book that simply will not be
    > written that way. I haven’t come up against mine yet, but I’m sure it’s out
    > there, lying in wait…

    One size fits nobody.

    Big books, small books; fiction, non-fiction; scripts, novels; use the tool that works best for the actual job.

  • #656094

    khwybebm50
    Participant

    bkawriter wrote:
    > I’m new, to both this site and to writing, so forgive me if this has
    > already been asked. Do more people here get started by doing an outline, as
    > so many books recommend, or do most just start writing as if it’s the final
    > product then revise as needed? Curious to hear what the “real
    > world” does.

    Ditto to what has been said in this thread in the big picture answer: follow your gut, dig in, if it doesn’t work try another method. Several years ago, the prof of the article writing clas I was taking had us submit an outline as part of the process, and I struggled with that in my writing “process” because of my natural bent of finding a yarn to write about and just seeing where it takes me. Whatever works best for you, trust yourself and your inner writer that you’ll find it sooner than later. Then…hang on and don’t let go, it can be a fun but wild ride along your writing journey 🙂
    -Diana

  • #656095

    margery65w
    Participant

    Shorty3.0 wrote:
    Several years ago, the prof of
    > the article writing class I was taking had us submit an outline as part of the
    > process, and I struggled with that in my writing “process” because of my
    > natural bent of finding a yarn to write about and just seeing where it takes me.

    I suspect that most people never think about their real process. Whatever they do , they just do it.
    Pantsers know they pants. But do plotters know how they plot? Or do they have a process they just do without thinking about how they do it.

    I worked on process for businesses so I know how my process works – sort of. At least better than most folks really understand their process.

  • #656096

    cypher
    Participant

    I used to write a brief outline from start of story to the end, but now write in chunks. Usually I finish with the same ending, but once or twice I’ve arrived at a completely different conclusion.
    One thing I have noticed is that, on the occasions when I seem to be stuck, there is usually a good reason for my lack of progress. My subconscious is telling me I’ve overlooked something. Once I realize what that is, it’s full steam ahead to the next chapter.

  • #656097

    Anonymous

    Oldtimer wrote:
    > I used to write a brief outline from start of story to the end, but now
    > write in chunks. Usually I finish with the same ending, but once or twice
    > I’ve arrived at a completely different conclusion.
    > One thing I have noticed is that, on the occasions when I seem to be stuck,
    > there is usually a good reason for my lack of progress. My subconscious is
    > telling me I’ve overlooked something. Once I realize what that is, it’s
    > full steam ahead to the next chapter.
    As I understand it, that’s a major component to why quite a few authors say that writer’s block does not exist. It’s not like it just stops. There’s usually something more to it.

    I don’t actually want to reignite that debate. It’s just an intriguing thought to consider.

  • #656098

    margery65w
    Participant

    > As I understand it, that’s a major component to why quite a few authors say that
    > writer’s block does not exist. It’s not like it just stops. There’s usually
    > something more to it.

    I wonder if writers block is always the true case and sometimes just another name for procrastination.

    There are many causes of procrastination. One is fear of failure.
    Could some writers be afraid what they do won’t be ‘good enough’, or that it will be rejected, or …. ??

  • #656099

    Anonymous

    noobienieuw wrote:

    >
    > I wonder if writers block is always the true case and sometimes just another name for
    > procrastination.
    >
    > There are many causes of procrastination. One is fear of failure.
    > Could some writers be afraid what they do won’t be ‘good enough’, or that it will be
    > rejected, or …. ??

    JMO, but I think most of the time it’s not a block as much as it’s a speed bump. People tend to think they should be able to solve a problem immediately, and when they can’t, they give up. Most the time, they just need to step away for a bit and let the brain get past the frustration.

  • #656100

    margery65w
    Participant

    ostarella wrote:

    > JMO, but I think most of the time it’s not a block as much as it’s a speed bump.
    > People tend to think they should be able to solve a problem immediately, and when
    > they can’t, they give up.

    I can see that once they started and are having problems.

    But what about starting?
    Even spotting them a perfectly round ‘tuit’ many people would still stare at a blank page and do nothing.
    The excuse would be writer’s block.
    The real reason might be not knowing how to plan and organise, else it might be procrastination caused by fear of rejection when they finished pantsing.

    In the middle you are probably correct. They gave up at the speedbump.

  • #656101

    Anonymous

    noobienieuw wrote:

    >
    > But what about starting?
    > Even spotting them a perfectly round ‘tuit’ many people would still stare at a blank
    > page and do nothing.
    > The excuse would be writer’s block.
    > The real reason might be not knowing how to plan and organise, else it might be
    > procrastination caused by fear of rejection when they finished pantsing.

    I think people’s problems with starting is believing they have to do it a certain way or they’ll fail, ignoring or failing to recognize that in creative endeavors, rules are minimal and fluid.

  • #656102

    margery65w
    Participant

    ostarella wrote:

    > I think people’s problems with starting is believing they have to do it a certain way
    > or they’ll fail, ignoring or failing to recognize that in creative endeavors, rules
    > are minimal and fluid.

    I am sure some have that problem.
    Or maybe they just don’t know how to do it the official way (whatever that is) and are afraid to just do it anyway.

  • #656103

    Anonymous

    noobienieuw wrote:
    >
    > I am sure some have that problem.
    > Or maybe they just don’t know how to do it the official way (whatever that is) and
    > are afraid to just do it anyway.

    In my eyes, that’s pure self-doubt. A writer has to trust the (proverbial or literal) pen in his or her hand, or failure is absolutely certain.

  • #656104

    margery65w
    Participant

    RobTheThird wrote:
    >
    > In my eyes, that’s pure self-doubt. A writer has to trust the (proverbial or
    > literal) pen in his or her hand, or failure is absolutely certain.

    Well, for sure, if you don’t try then you are guaranteed to not succeed.

  • #656105

    timeradrake
    Participant

    noobienieuw wrote:
    >
    > Well, for sure, if you don’t try then you are guaranteed to not succeed.
    >

    More than that, though. At least for me. I can *make* myself write, with enough effort. But that “stench” of forced writing hangs onto the words, and makes me see only the flaws, none of the creativity. That, too, is part of trusting your pen.

  • #656106

    margery65w
    Participant

    robjvargas wrote:
    > noobienieuw wrote:
    > >
    > > Well, for sure, if you don’t try then you are guaranteed to not succeed.
    > >
    >
    > More than that, though. At least for me. I can *make* myself write, with enough
    > effort. But that “stench” of forced writing hangs onto the words, and makes
    > me see only the flaws, none of the creativity. That, too, is part of trusting your
    > pen.

    That is the flip side. Just because you do write does not mean it will be any good.
    But for sure if you do not write anything then it will never exist to have a chance to be good.

  • #656107

    minervabarunga
    Participant

    I use an outline, but it’s more of a path in my head as opposed to an actual written document. I think a formal outline can sometimes be constricting because one of the joys of writing is experiencing the evolution of the piece.

  • #656108

    margery65w
    Participant

    TheContemplativeWordsmith wrote:
    > I use an outline, but it’s more of a path in my head as opposed to an
    > actual written document. I think a formal outline can sometimes be
    > constricting because one of the joys of writing is experiencing the
    > evolution of the piece.

    I view outlines like a AAA triptik.
    It shows their suggestion of getting from A to B.

    When I use google maps it usually shows alternatives.

    These are all not restrictive , but merely suggestions to save time on the trip.
    We are free to detour, take side trips, or ignore it if we have a better path to follow.

    Some people can keep it in their head. Others need to print the directions to look at occasionally.

    Dont you experience the evolution as you fill in the details of the outline?
    How much you fill in before you start writing depends on the person.

    Do you feel constrained with your document mapping when you use framemaker?

  • #656109

    Anonymous

    I use maps when I have to be somewhere specific by a specific time. Along the way I look wistfully at all the side roads I wish I had time to explore. My favorite vacations, even as a child, were those where we chose the next destination as we were ready to leave the current one – oh, the adventures we had! 😀

    I also remember faithfully following a map when we went to get our dog – we passed the same little red schoolhouse seven times… 😆

  • #656110

    margery65w
    Participant

    ostarella wrote:
    > I use maps when I have to be somewhere specific by a specific time.

    Indeed.
    Maps are useful when you have limited time as well as to help reach desired destinations easily.

    If you don’t care how long you take, or where you end up, then just start driving
    and enjoy all the scenery along the way while you take any interesting side roads you see.

    When I was a kid they were called Sunday drivers.
    People had cars and wanted to use them, but not nearly as much need to use them as we have now.
    And times were less hectic so folks had more time for fun things not just working more to try to keep up with the bills.

  • #656111

    Anonymous

    noobienieuw wrote:
    >
    > If you don’t care how long you take, or where you end up, then just start driving
    > and enjoy all the scenery along the way while you take any interesting side roads you
    > see.
    >

    Well, of course, one can still enjoy the ride while being mindful of time and where one ends up.

    I think it has to do with mindset. If I’m doing something that’s strictly “has to get done” whether I like doing it or not, then I’ll have a plan of attack so I can get it over with and move on to the project I really want to be working on. It’s like getting the housework done so I can go and work in the garden.

  • #656112

    margery65w
    Participant

    ostarella wrote:
    > noobienieuw wrote:
    > >
    > > If you don’t care how long you take, or where you end up, then just start driving
    >
    > Well, of course, one can still enjoy the ride while being mindful of time and where
    > one ends up.
    >
    > I think it has to do with mindset. If I’m doing something that’s strictly “has
    > to get done” whether I like doing it or not, then I’ll have a plan of attack so
    > I can get it over with and move on to the project I really want to be working on.

    At my age, I don’t really have time to waste. That is my mindset.
    Either I have a goal and I get it done, or I do something else.
    Rarely do I have the luxury of just sitting and wondering what I should do next,
    or just wasting time smelling the flowers or whatever like a young person can do without any guilt.

  • #656113

    Anonymous

    noobienieuw wrote:

    > At my age, I don’t really have time to waste. That is my mindset.
    > Either I have a goal and I get it done, or I do something else.
    > Rarely do I have the luxury of just sitting and wondering what I should do next,
    > or just wasting time smelling the flowers or whatever like a young person can do
    > without any guilt.

    Of course, it depends on what one considers “wasting time”. My goal is typically to get the crap done first so I can move on to the good stuff (definitely no wondering what I should do next because there’s so much good stuff waiting). The crap has to have a plan so it’s a shorter pain in the butt (and I need the checklist to keep myself from just saying “the heck with it – I’m going on to the good stuff!”); the good stuff doesn’t require a plan because it’s where the creativity has been chomping at the bit waiting for the crap to get out of the way.

    As to age – it’s from getting older that I learned the importance of stopping to smell the flowers. 🙂

  • #656114

    margery65w
    Participant

    ostarella wrote:
    > noobienieuw wrote:

    > Of course, it depends on what one considers “wasting time”.

    I have good days and bad days. I can barely get the crap done so that I have time left to do the things that I would rather do.
    When I do have time for my self actualization then I hate wasting it.
    I want to focus on my creativity with effective and efficient tools not just start writing and see what happens.
    Call me type A but I want to be in control not see where some characters take me.

    For me, pantsing is the slow inefficient way to creating. I am more likely to stare at a blank page, and then give up, if I tried that approach.
    Brainstorming, clustering, planning, and other divers methods of creativity are more satisfying to try , and much more productive for me.
    YMMV.

    Maybe I am too logical. But some variation of snowflake or related methods makes much more sense for me to try using.

    Now I do admit to pantsing successfully if the piece is short enough. 1500 words is a piece of cake, although a little planning, at least in my head if not a few phrases on an envelope, is plenty to keep me moving forward without needless rework.
    3000 is on the border. 5000+ and I , personally, will be more productive with better quality by organising and planning before doing any writing.

    In other fora that I have seen , while chasing that canonical rodent around the internet rabbit hole, they have mostly agreed that for scripts you have to plan.
    Now maybe that is again the logical left/right brain thing, or the fact that I tend to be visually oriented, but I have to agree with them.

    If there is a Stephen King script writer that pantses his work then I am unaware of him. And for all his success with novels, that approach , while working for some writers, definitely does not work for me. I would like to emulate Patterson, but would settle for Rowling:)

  • #656115

    Anonymous

    noobienieuw wrote:

    > For me, pantsing is the slow inefficient way to creating.

    Then you’re one of the writers for whom organic writing is not the way to go. That’s why we always say there are as many methods to writing as there are writers. No method will ever be best for all writers.

  • #656116

    Anonymous

    noobienieuw wrote:
    > For me, pantsing is the slow inefficient way to creating. I am more likely to
    > stare at a blank page, and then give up, if I tried that approach.
    > Brainstorming, clustering, planning, and other divers methods of creativity are more
    > satisfying to try , and much more productive for me.
    > YMMV.
    >
    > Maybe I am too logical. But some variation of snowflake or related methods makes
    > much more sense for me to try using.

    That’s a phrase that bugs me every time I see it.

    “I’m too…”

    There’s no such thing, IMO. The reason I say that is because phrase looks too much like calling whatever follows a flaw.

    Too logical?

    Nah.

    You’re just right logical.

    For you.

    People with a passion for paintings can tell their favorite artists’ works by the texture of the paint, by the pattern of brush strokes, as well as by the subject matter. It doesn’t mean that van Gogh was better than da Vinci. Or Dali.

    Likewise, how we write shapes the work we create. So our methods should be in tune with how we function as writers. What works for him or her may or may not work for me. And vice versa.

    And that’s okay. In fact, that’s part of the magic.

  • #656117

    ayometax
    Participant

    Happy pantser here. After the first chapter or two I’ll usually start sketching a basic outline somewhere, but I have to do it along the way, as I discover and develop my ideas. If I put too much energy into planning and outlining before I start writing, it just sucks away all my inspiration and momentum. I have about a dozen or so abandoned novels from back when I was attempting to outline first. The first novel I ever pantsed was the first novel I actually finished, and the whole process was a sort of revelation.

  • #656118

    margery65w
    Participant

    RobTheThird wrote:
    > noobienieuw wrote:
    > > “I’m too logical…”
    > >
    > Too logical?
    > > Nah.
    > > You’re just right logical.
    > > For you.

    Me and Spock ! Can’t be too logical:)

  • #656119

    margery65w
    Participant

    AnimaEditing wrote:
    > Happy pantser here…. The first novel I ever pantsed was the first
    > novel I actually finished, and the whole process was a sort of revelation.

    Congratulations on finishing. Many mss end up in desk drawers without getting done.

  • #656120

    Anonymous

    AnimaEditing wrote:
    > Happy pantser here. After the first chapter or two I’ll usually start
    > sketching a basic outline somewhere, but I have to do it along the way, as
    > I discover and develop my ideas. If I put too much energy into planning and
    > outlining before I start writing, it just sucks away all my inspiration and
    > momentum. I have about a dozen or so abandoned novels from back when I was
    > attempting to outline first. The first novel I ever pantsed was the first
    > novel I actually finished, and the whole process was a sort of revelation.

    I think I was lucky in that when I started writing (decades ago) there were no “experts” telling me how to do things. It was all about story-telling. I never considered outlining because I never saw a need for it – my writing was going just fine. And when I got back into writing (like 12 years ago), I was well into my 3rd book before I joined any forums and found out I was doing it all “wrong” (and I decided I liked being wrong)! 😆

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