To outline, or not to outline, that is the question.

I just viewed this interesting slideshow on Flavorwire containing outlines by famous writers. I use “outlines” in a broad sense–several were more like graphic organizers than true outlines. I had a weird reaction to the piece.

Usually, I start stories with clusters or notes, not with actual outlines, unless we’re talking something big–a serial (even a mini-serial) or a novel. Sometimes, I cross out and draw arrows to rearrange the elements so often, I end up rewriting the whole thing a few times because I no longer can read my own diagrams.

In most cases, these scribbles remain private. However, I happen to be working on a project right now where the publisher requested an outline first, but that’s never really happened before.

Several of my friends tell me they just start writing. They skip the outlines, diagrams, and charts and words just start to flow.

This slideshow bizarrely made some part of my brain do a superiority dance. “I am in good company with other prewriters,” it seems to say. “Just look at me with the likes of Henry Miller, William Faulkner, Sylvia Plath and Joseph Heller!”

This is utter nonsense. Plenty of writers do just fine without scribbling diagrams, outlines, or the like first, particularly if they are writing short form.

Are you an outliner? Why or why not?

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