How To Be An Efficient Writer – The Outline

18 Feb

There seems to be two types of writers:  the organic writer, and the outline writer.

Photo by Chris Beach (cc)

Photo by Chris Beach (cc)

I’m a firm believer that an outline can help any writer be more efficient.  Many view this tool as a destroyer of creativity, as though it turns the writing process into an assembly line.  Look at it this way.  Your creative brain wrote the outline in the first place, and it will be your creativity that will bring your story to life, each magical chapter, each eloquent sentence.  And nothing is set in stone.  It’s your story.  You can re-evaluate as you go along and revise your outline as needed.

No matter what category you fall under, here’s what an outline can do for your writing:

Reduces editing.

No one likes the editing process.  Well, some of you do, but I think you’re crazy.  There, I said it.  Why not make it easier on yourself by having a clear picture of where your story is going ahead of time?  Before wayward side stories, unnecessary scenes, and disappearing secondary characters pollute your novel.

Prevents pointless chapters.

You might love the chapter.  It helps develop your characters, it’s fun, it’s full of action.  But does it actually do anything to progress the main plot?  Does it serve a purpose in the story?  No?  You know what could have helped point that out before you spent all that time writing it?  Yup.  An outline.

Highlights those plot holes and nagging unanswered questions.

Sometimes we just want to put that pen to paper and start writing, letting the details work themselves out as we go.  But it can be those little details that will turn a story on its head, and to rectify it could mean a lot of backtracking.

Maintains tension.

An outline can show you where the tension and conflict rises, and where it falls flat, allowing you to switch it up or insert new developments to maintain the excitement level — and your readers’ interest.

Keeps you on track.

Like to stick to a schedule?  If you set defined goals, such as a specific word count for the day or a certain number of chapters per week, an outline is a handy reference to help guide you.

Besides, you’ll probably need one anyway (unless you’re self-publishing).

Agents and editors like to see that you have a well-developed story without reading 300 pages only to discover it’s just a meandering, aimless journey for your unwitting main character.

No one is entirely productivity-driven, nor are they entirely organic in their style.  Writers are a mix of both.  However, at one point or another, we all say, “I wish I had more time to write.”  An outline could be your answer.  The more time you save on editing later means more time you can spend letting your creative juices flow.  Give it a try.

Do you agree?  Disagree?  What’s your preferred method?

6 Responses to “How To Be An Efficient Writer – The Outline”

  1. jcmarckx2009 February 18, 2013 at 10:01 am #

    I’m still a newbie, so perhaps I do not yet know what type of writer I am, but I suspect I am a mix of the two. I do write outlines for larger works, but I tend to just go willy-nilly with the shorter pieces.
    Your ideas on outlining make perfect sense to me. I should make a habit to do that more often.

    Thanks for the info.

    • C H Griffin February 18, 2013 at 5:12 pm #

      Good point about shorter pieces. The shorter it is, the easier it would be to keep everything straight. In my opinion, you’re starting out with some good habits. Thanks for the comment.

  2. annalclarkson February 18, 2013 at 12:49 pm #

    I used to hate outlines. I thought they restricted my writing. But I’ve recently fallen in love with them, and use them all the time for my longer pieces. If it’s a short one-shot, I usually just wing it, but for anything that will be chaptered outlines are my new favorite thing.

    I usually do three things when planning a story. I freewrite first, and get all of my ideas out and on paper, so to speak. Then, I do a general story outline. Once that is finished, I go into a more detailed outline that sorts things out, chapter by chapter.

    This allows me to keep things organized, and as you wrote, highlights plot holes.

    • C H Griffin February 18, 2013 at 5:19 pm #

      In the past, when I didn’t do a proper outline, it was easy to glaze over the holes, or the points that didn’t make sense. I definitely paid for it after. I’ve learned my lesson. Thanks for stopping by!

      • elenacarpi February 19, 2013 at 5:43 pm #

        Great ideas. I just started using outlines and have found it to really increase my productivity. Like all writers, writing on a whim can be magical, but not always practical. I look forward to hearing more from you!

      • C H Griffin February 19, 2013 at 6:35 pm #

        Thank you. And good luck on achieving your goal this year. I hope my blog will be able to help you.

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