Sunday, July 7, 2013

Jeffe's Five Smartass Purposes for Outlining

This week's topic is, get this, "The Purpose of Outlining."



Yeah, okay - I'm absolutely the kid in the back of the class rolling my eyes as the teacher explains outlining. When we had to do the exercise of outlining a research paper, turn in the outline and later turn in the paper? Yes, I wrote the paper, then outlined it and turned that in. When I think about jumping through those particular hoops, I remember being forced to "show my work" on math problems. This was always to prove that you followed the teacher's method, rather than skipping steps to simply produce the answer.

I'm an incorrigible step-skipper.

It's how my brain works. I seem to organize information in a different way. Or maybe it's that I organize as I go, so all of these ideas and mathematical solutions are already filed. Asking me to go back and retrace my path to get there can be... well, infuriating.I loathed those pointless exercises.

You can just imagine how my more pedantic teachers felt about me. Nothing worse than a student who produces the correct answer or an acceptable final paper without being able to demonstrate how she got there.


No, really.

Because, to me, making an outline before hand means precluding those bursts of inspiration that happen along the way. I'd rather follow my intuition and see where it leads.

So, now that I am writing my own books and don't have to prove my methods to anyone, guess how much outlining I do?

That's right. ZERO.

And yet, I must answer the question posed. Thus, Jeffe's take on five purposes of outlining:

  1. To con the teacher into giving you a good grade.
  2. To procrastinate actually writing.
  3. To take advantage of those bullet-point formats and subcategories you don't otherwise use.
    1. Cuz, see? They have cool tiering functions
      1. And you can make a lot of sub-points to overall points
      2. Sometimes more than one
        1. More subtopics abound!
        3. You can even leave some blank, just for grins
          1. Yeah. Not all that fun, really.
  4. To suck all the magic out of the creative process.
  5. To persuade yourself you have control over the fundamentally uncontrollable. 
 I know I'm terribly biased. And a smartass, too.

 Really, I know outlining works for many writers. I'm sure we'll hear from some of them this week. But the upshot is, creating an outline is a way of organizing your thoughts about a story. It is, however, only ONE way to do that. The outliners and preplotters of the world love having that level of (apparent) control. They view anyone without that control as being kind of crazy undisciplined.Thus the moniker "pantser" from "flying by the seat of your pants." Note that this is not an admiring description.

Do not listen to their blandishments!

Everyone organizes their thoughts in different ways.

Follow your own genius.

Make your own way.

Find the magic.


  1. I'm SO not an outliner either! Altho when I learned it, I was taught the old Roman numeral system which gets very complicated VERY fast. I'll save any more till my day to blog on this LOL.

    1. me too! I was surprised the blogger default includes no letters! the HORRORS!

  2. Outlining is a four-letter word with nine letters!

  3. I am one of those writers who needs an outline. Without it I feel my story will have no direction and I'd be wandering aimlessly and writing nothing but random worldbuilding chapters.

    However, I can empathize with the anti-outline sentiment in the context of an English class. I also took a lot of shortcuts in classes to get the right answers and was bewildered when my teachers insisted I did it wrong, despite getting the answers right, because I used a different method. I guess they have to prove that they're teaching some kind of method to everyone, and it works? Clearly not everyone's brain is wired the same way, but when it comes to the standardized school system, nobody cares.

    1. Sadly true, Beth, about the standardized school system. And hey - if an outline is working for you - great!

  4. Jeffe -

    I outline for comfort when I start my story and create my synopsis. That said, when I finish the story and have to send in a synopsis I have to laugh at how my story is so different than my original outline.

    I LOVE the bursts of inspiration. When I write I look forward to having my characters come alive and 'take control'. Its what makes them believable.

    Well Missy Smartass. Can you please move over so I can sit next to you and Veronica, Stacy, and Beth. We could be the Smartass Sisterhood!


  5. I giggled and snorted my way through this, love your posts Jeffe.

  6. I'm so not an outliner. You cracked me up though, I used to write my school papers and THEN create an outline to turn in. Now of course I don't bother faking it. I let my characters tell me their story and let the words take me where they will; what happens is exactly what is supposed to happen. Later I go back and correct sequencing if I need to and write in any missing "bridges."

    Outlines? Bah!

  7. See? I knew there was a reason I liked you. Pantsers United Forever.