Many writers and authors find outlining a real challenge, especially when they’re writing fiction.
I’ve become convinced that this is because you’re working against your natural creativity.
I’m a natural-born pantser. It took me years to learn how to outline fiction — and then only when I wanted a book contract. No one ever noticed that the novel I delivered had little (if any) relationship to the outline.
Nevertheless, I finally learned to love outlining because I learned to mine my creativity throughout a writing project.
Many writers hate outlining because it kills their creativity
Let’s say you’re starting a novel. You’ve got a basic idea, but it’s fuzzy. Do you have sufficient conflict for a book? You create a few characters, and the basics of their story world.
You try to outline. By day two of your outlining process, you hate your idea. You hate everyone. After you’ve killed several novels in this way, you give up and decide that you’re a pantser. Outlines aren’t for you.
When you refuse to outline, chances are that you’re doing more work because you need to revise and rewrite heavily. Every project takes longer.
What if the outlining process were easier?
These tips help my writing students; they may help you too.
1. Use brain dumps at every stage of the writing process
What’s a “brain dump?” Basically you write down thoughts which come to you in a set period of time: ten minutes, half an hour… it’s up to you.
You have one rule when you brain dump: accept whatever you write no matter how bizarre and keep writing.
I started using brain dumps when I procrastinated on copywriting projects. I told myself: “I work better under pressure.” Then I missed a couple of deadlines and realized that I was kidding myself.
One day I started writing about a project as soon as I was commissioned. This helped, because:
- It reinforced the project brief — I knew exactly what the project involved, and how long it was likely to take;
- It kickstarted my creativity and I became inspired;
- Copywriting became more fun.
Brain dumping made me more confident. When I started to teach writing, I encouraged my students to use the process; it worked for them, too.
Now I use brain dumps to generate text for everything. Then I create mind maps from what I’ve generated.
2. Reverse-outline as you go to generate ideas
For short projects, you can transfer your ideas from your brain dump straight to a mind map.
When you’re writing at book length however, as well as creating mind maps, try reverse outlining — that is, outline after you’ve written a chapter. Just write a list of what you have: a sentence or two for each scene.
Reverse outlining has an intriguing side-effect. When you read over your outline, you’ll become inspired. Fresh ideas will come to you.
Try doing brain dumps on these ideas as soon as they occur to you.
3. Get visual: forget outlining, use mind maps
The major benefit of a mind map is that you can see what you have at a glance. Additionally, mind maps help you to muse — to get into that gentle dream-like state you need for writing fiction.
Create a story board to accompany your mind maps for a project:
Watch any crime series or movie, and you’ll see the detectives creating an investigation board or wall…
I like to paste images of my main characters, a map or two to show locations, and anything I want to remember because I’ll need it later in the novel.
More outlining inspiration
Want more outlining inspiration? Here you go — Map It: For Writing Success — Fiction And Nonfiction Outlines Made Easy.
I developed the tactics and strategies in this book to help myself. My students have found them essential to producing both fiction and nonfiction almost effortlessly.More info →
In this book we'll aim to increase your creativity to unlock your imagination and build the writing career of your dreams.More info →