The Worst Writing Advice? Outlining

A rabbit and a gnome fight over a carrot

I was working on interview questions for the Remembering Warriors book bundle this week and the above question stuck with me.

There’s a lot of really bad writing advice out there.  Beginning writers pass around advice as if they were experts, and there’s a confirmation bias from other beginners, so no one questions it.  The problem is so bad that when an experienced, well-published writer gives advice, they will say he’s wrong because it doesn’t agree with all the advice the beginners are giving.

But the worst writing advice I received was that I needed to outline.

It doesn’t bother me if someone else needs to outline to produce a book.  It’s whatever works, and everyone is different.

But the reverse is not true.

When I started writing, I naturally gravitated to just starting the story and writing it.  It’s called pantsing, and pantsers discover what the story is about by writing it.

From the start, people were horrified!  I was eight.  Why did it matter?

At least two different people instructed me on how to outline.  Neither of them were writers, or even English majors.  They simply could not imagine how I could write a story without outlining it first.

Cat disapproves
Cat disapproves

But I didn’t realize how pervasive this was in the writing industry.  I wanted to get published, so I studied Writer’s Digest, The Writer, and any craft book I could lay my hands on.  When the internet was invented, I jumped on and read site after site on writing craft.

I didn’t know that all those resources defaulted to the assumption I was outlining.

I kept trying to write novels.  But they were born broken.  Really broken.  Not fixable broken.  Alien spaceship takes out a city broken.  I didn’t realize at the time the source of this was all the craft advice that assumes outlining.  My subconscious was picking up on the outlining parts and slipping into the story, causing it to break.

I made it worse by going back to craft books, searching for answers. I explained my problems on writing message boards.  The default response from writers?

You guessed it.  Outline.

Eventually, I tried outlining.  I figured, why not?  I actually tried several different types of outlines.

One was this four week class on “Pantser-Friendly Outlining,” where one writer taught her method.  I almost quit that class each of the four weeks (that pesky Army “Accomplish the mission” kicked in).  The instructor got very impatient with me because I wasn’t doing it “right,” and other writers jumped in, trying to explain it to me.

Not one person said “Maybe you’re not an outliner.”

The default was to outline.  Period.  No one gave any other answers or options.

For a field that starts with creation and imagination, this seems rather…limiting.  There is no one size fits all in writing.

What’s the worst advice you’ve run into?

All the books in Rabbit Bundle, Remembering Warriors.

Montage image of all the covers from Remembering Warriors