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Outline or no outline?

Posted by Maria Murnane | September 4, 2012

Do you use an outline when you write? That’s by far one of the most common questions I get asked from aspiring authors. It’s a great question, but a hard one to answer. Why? Because the best reply I can give is…sort of.

Every author is different, but here’s what I’ve found works for me: before I begin a novel (I just finished my fourth), I jot down bullet points of the basic situation/premise and some interesting things that could happen along the way. The bullet points aren’t detailed, but they give me an idea of how the story begins and where it may go. Once I feel comfortable with that, I start writing.

An outline can help keep you on track-- or at the very least get you started!

And you know what I’ve found? Once I start writing, I don’t look at the bullet points at all. I mean AT ALL. The story tends to take on a life of its own, and when that happens I know it’s good, so I don’t want to mess with it by looking back at my notes and trying to force something I thought should happen.

This approach is reflected in my personal life. For example, my friend Rosie is going to Turkey soon, and the other day we were talking about how she already has the trip planned. I don’t just mean the cities she’s going to visit; I mean she has every day of the trip planned. That’s just how her mind works. When I travel, I usually wake up in the morning, pull out my guide book, and over breakfast decide what I’m going to do that day. I may have a general idea of what I’d like to see while I’m in town, but I don’t like to be too restricted in the details. (Rosie and I would probably not travel well together!)

The lesson here is that writing a novel is an art, not a science, so there’s really no right or wrong answer. Do what works for YOU, and it will all work out in the end.

-Maria

This blog post originally appeared on CreateSpace.com. Reprinted with permission. © 2012 CreateSpace, a DBA of On-Demand Publishing, LLC. All rights reserved.

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One Response to “Outline or no outline?”

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  • Bill Cokas says:

    This sounds like my approach. Just going through the outlining process forces me to think my way forward through the story, but once I’ve done that, it’s like the path has been forged in my head, and I don’t need to reference the “map” all that often. Still, like a net beneath a tightrope walker, it’s nice to know it’s there!

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