Should you use an outline when you write?
The answer is maybe.
If an outline helps you organize your thoughts, gives your piece structure, or streamlines the writing process, then use it. However, if an outline constrains your creativity, presents a roadblock to starting, or slows you down, then don’t use one.
Sometimes I use an outline and sometimes I don’t.
For articles and blog posts, I seldom use an outline. Usually, I start with a topic or theme, seeing where the words take me (as in this post). Sometimes I don’t end up where I expect to. When this happens, one piece may become two or even a series. Or my words might morph into something else, leaving my original idea intact for another day.
Alternately, I may start with a title and write to it. On other occasions, I know the end, using words to reach my destination. Sometimes I know both the beginning and the ending, with my job merely to connect the two.
For books I always use an outline. There’s too much time to invest for me to not have a firm plan. Generally, my outline is mere bullet points listing the chapters, be it titles or themes. Other times my outline contains more detail, carefully connecting each thought, flowing from one section into the next. It matters not if I’m writing fiction or non-fiction, I use an outline.
Following an outline doesn’t limit my options or stifle creativity; instead, an outline funnels ideas into focused writing. I direct the bulk of my creative energies into my outline, where moving things around and changing my mind are much easier to do, with far fewer ramifications.
So sometimes I use an outline and sometimes I don’t. The same can apply to you. Don’t do what you think you should do or what someone told you, but use what works best for you.
Peter Lyle DeHaan, PhD, is an author, blogger, and publisher with over 30 years of writing and publishing experience. Check out his book The Successful Author for insider tips and insights.