Definition of Outline: a general description or plan giving the essential features of something but not the detail.

Most authors subscribe to one of two writing methods: Outlining or Pantsing. For those who don’t know what pantsing is, it simply means to write without a plan or outline. I’d always considered myself a pantser, preferring to allow creativity to take my story where it will. However, this created problems as I sometimes found creativity hard to conjure. Also my stories get more and more complex which is hard to manage without an outline to refer to.

Something I have heard from authors many times, is that the first draft is just throw-up on a page. No matter if you outline or pants, the first draft is always going to be “crap”. Have you ever heard statements like these? “Writing is re-writing”, or “Books are not written, they’re re-written.” I’m certain most writers know these, and others like them, very well. Essentially this means that a story isn’t a fully fleshed out story until it’s been hammered out through re-writes and edits. A process every writer should know very well.

One day I took a first draft, or a “throw-up” chapter, to my writing group. I explained to the others in the group that it’s a first chapter, and it’s going to change quite a bit through re-writing, so it didn’t make sense to give me a writing critique just yet, only a big picture or story critique. One of the girls preceded to give me a granular critique anyway, on how there’s not enough description, that there just needs to be more. I resisted the urge to remind her of my previous request. The art of picking battles.

Weeks later, while thinking about that night, I had an epiphany. Those first drafts, which are made up of infantile sentences, are outlines by definition. They are the plans that give essential features to your story, but not the detail. The frame before the house. The bones before the body.

This realization actually gave me relief. Why? As much as I understood that my first drafts simply wouldn’t be as good as drafts that had been polished through re-writes and edits, it remained difficult to remember while in writing mode. The perfectionist in me struggled to allow my words to suck, slowing, and sometimes halting their flow. Realizing that those first words don’t necessarily suck, but are simply the outline or bones of that scene or chapter, sets my perfectionist mind at ease, allowing the words to flow once again.

So you see, unless you’re able to write a polished story in one draft, which I can’t imagine is even possible, you are an outliner. Therefore, all writers are outliners.

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