For better or worse, stubbornness comes as a standard feature in a writer's brain. It's like that mysterious undercoating for your new car. You can tell the dealership you don't want it, but you get it anyway.
In my case, stubbornness was that welcome hand at my back, pushing me along. Stubbornness also kept me unpublished for more years than I care to think about. Stubbornness kept me away from outlining.
I wanted to be one of "those" writers, the kind that flies by the seat of his pants, churning out fantastic stories by simply dumping his imagination onto paper. Nine long years into the process I realized I wasn't one of "those" writers. I needed a plan for my novel, so I turned to outlining. And the first book I outlined got published.
Consider this analogy: A woodworker decides to build a beautiful armoire. He drives to the hardware store, grabs random boards and handfuls of nails, then returns home, dumps his supplies on the garage floor like a piles of pick-up-sticks and starts hammering away. What are the chances he'll end up with the armoire he envisioned? You know the answer. Had the woodworker followed a plan his chances of succeeding would have skyrocketed. The same goes for a writer tackling a novel — arguably a much more complex project than an armoire.
Let's look at why I resisted outlining and why most writers do:
- Outlining is too formal, too restrictive.
- Outlining will suck all the fun out of the process.
- Outlining will rob me of the journey of discovery.
- A page of bullets highlighting the most critical parts of the story.
- A mini-story that runs from five pages to forty pages.
- A loose flow chart of scenes and chapters.
- A formal outline with roman numerals and letters.
Character motivations and goals
- Plot points large and small, from beats that drive your scenes along to pivot points that take the plot in a wholly different direction.
- Bits of characterization or setting that further immerse the reader into your story.
- Brief descriptions of a character's arc.
Fear not outlining. To use yet another more literary metaphor from Harper Lee's TO KILL A MOCKINGBIRD, outlining is every writer's Boo Radley, that scary neighbor that turns out to be your best friend.