This is topic is inspired by a bunch of posts over on the Professional Writer’s Blog. The blog, if you’re interested, is very different than the more standard blogs. So far, it’s not for beginners…anyone seeking quick tips or a list to check off would probably be disappointed. But it does get into discussions for more advanced writing.
I’m what’s called a pantser. Or a gardener. Or a discovery writer. Or a NOP (No Outline Person). Or I write into the dark.
I don’t outline or plan out my stories before I write them.
Frankly, I don’t particularly like any of those terms. Everyone seems to want to put us into these different categories like they’re trying to check a box.
And it’s always versus, like we’re at war against each other. Plotter versus pantsers is particularly silly. The implication is that because someone doesn’t outline, they don’t do plot. Plot is a series of events—“and this happened, and this happened, and this happened”—in the story. You’d have to work awfully hard not to have any plot in a story, even a bad one.
I started writing when I was eight years old. A friend was writing plays for class, and I thought it was cool. I started writing stories. All the time. Sometimes in class. Mostly mysteries because I was reading Nancy Drew and wanted girl detective fiction.
Pretty much, I came up with an idea and started writing.
So I wrote like I read a story. I wrote the next word, sentence, and paragraph in and the story was unveiled to me.
Somewhere along the way, that became not good enough.
It’s a problem for children as they get older, and adults. We start seeing the flaws in the ideas, and in our creativity. We start trying to perfect.
Some of this is encouraged by teachers and other well-meaning people. The creativity can lead us to some really wild places. Places that make adults frown and try to steer the creative kid in a different direction. In high school, I write a serial killer short story. One of the teachers steered me to “more appropriate” topics.
Outlining is another way of steering the young writer to contain the outlandishness of creativity. Instead of wandering all over like Billy in Family Circus and discovering interesting things, you go in a straight line with planned stops.
Other writers have told me that outlining enhances creativity and does not stifle it. Not true! Not true!
The greatest thing about creativity is being unconstrained. Being willing to take the left fork on the path to see what’s there.
Being unafraid to take a step forward and trust the creative side will work like it’s supposed to. Like Indiana Jones when he steps off into the abyss and the path appears.
And everything we get taught as we get older is that we cannot trust ourselves to do any of this right. We second guess the ideas. Is it good enough? Irrelevant) Is it going to sell? (Unknown) Has it been done before? (Always)
But writing without an outline is the ultimate way of trusting yourself. You don’t know where the story is going to go until you get there.
It’s exhilarating and exciting!
At times, it’s also terrifying. For all of the same reasons.
As I write the story, I play with all the possibilities I can do. Sometimes I wander down a rabbit hole and it doesn’t work. Or turns out not to be right.
The people who outline will tell me that planning the story out will fix that kind of problem. That it’ll help me not waste time.
And they have no understanding that the joy of the creating of the story is going down those rabbit holes to see what’s there. It’s fun!
Especially when one of the rabbit holes triggers something else that takes the story in a different direction that I’d never thought of. A direction I wouldn’t have gotten if I’d done the outline. Everything counts when it comes to creativity.
I’d never write any other way. It’s just too much fun discovering the story.