To Outline or Not to Outline

As someone who did not formally study writing, I figured out just recently that there is a raging debate about whether you should outline a book before you write it. Some folks feel that outlines are critical and others feel that it gets in the way of their creative process. I would be exaggerating if I said that I had a creative process, but I did wake up after a few months with 55,000 words on paper sort of organized into chapters.

In some cases, there were nice turns of phrase and some good descriptions but it was obvious that I would need help to complete, polish and fill out what I was writing. So, when I found K.M Weiland’s book, Outlining Your Novel, (visit her website), it came at a good time.

As I mused over her ideas and helpful text, I was really stopped by both the “what if” question and the chapter on backstory and character sketches. I took lots of notes.

But soon, I thought I needed some structure and plot and moved on to other books.

Then, I got stuck. The more I read about writing and the elements of a novel, the more I felt like I hadn’t really done anything. Somewhat out of desperation, I sat down one night and started to write a character sketch using Weiland’s hints and suggestions. And, suddenly it worked.

Anne Lamott has written that she just writes and that makes her writer. I sense that she isn’t as formal as Weiland about outlining but what I did was just write, but as a backstory and character sketch. The next thing I knew, I had five character sketches and almost another 10,000 words of possibly useful material and another important thing, the epiphany that lead me to consider writing as an essential life-changing event.


Because the story I was imagining was part of my own life and it became a powerful way to revisit some scary stuff and fill in gaps that I needed to fill in to find some balance.

So, I did not solve the “to outline or not to outline” debate, but I found that the great ideas of at least two writers helped me to another goal.

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