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?

3 Tricks for magazine writers: How to write on a theme and still make your deadline

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Before you start to type, you might want to try one of these 3 things.

One of my writing jobs is penning teen and tween stories for Jewish magazines. Before getting this gig, I had to learn an important lesson: most kids’ magazines select one theme per issue, and they are only open to stories on those themes. That means you have to write what they want, when they want it–but you’ve got to still tap into your creativity to make your story fresh, fun, and readable.

NOTE: Writing contests (although many are scams, there are plenty of legit ones) and classroom assignments frequently require that submissions/assignments include a specific topic or theme and have a deadline, as well. You don’t have to write for magazines to benefit from these 3 tips.

Sometimes, I get the heads-up on what story the editor wants on what theme a month in advance. But sometimes it’s a lot less. How do I come up with a story on short notice?  Continue reading