Whether you’re working on a research paper, book, social media post, or a brochure, there’s always the question of whether or not you should plan out your writing beforehand.
What is a writing outline?
A writing outline is a plan of what a writer wants to include in their work. For a book, this could be a chapter summary or a planned character arc; for papers, a list of facts; and for social media posts, ideas for a gripping hook or a list search-engine optimization words.
A writing outline can be as detailed or scarce as the writer wants. Some writers will use short bullet points while others will write out an extensive list of facts they’d like to use within their work.
There’s no single standard for a writing outline, however, they’re usually divided into the different areas that a work will cover. Authors usually complete writing outlines for their own benefit.
The Pros of Outlining
Whether you’re writing a short or long piece, here’s some benefits of having a writing outline.
You have a direction
If you make an outline before you write, you’ll have a nice, big cushion to fall back on when you’re stuck. Your outline will detail all of your research, plot events, and twists, meaning you’ll only have to work on putting your thoughts into prose. You won’t ask yourself “now what” when you hit a wall in your story, and you’ll already have all the facts you’ll ever need.
You have the opportunity to ask yourself questions beforehand
You might know that you want to write about a man who loves to talk with the plants in his house. Outlining different questions about your character gives you the opportunity to ask questions beforehand. For example, you might ask yourself why the man does this. Is it because he misses his dead lover? Or, maybe the plants remind him of his youth as a gardener.
Asking yourself questions will give you a clear picture of the characters or stance you want to take throughout your writing.
You’ll be less likely to get stuck
Raise your hand if you’ve even gotten stuck when writing a research paper for school.
*Raises hand slowly.*
Yeah, thought so. And this problem can still manifest itself even if you’re writing for fun! Writing is work. However, if you outline beforehand, you’ll at least know where you want to go in your next paragraph or scene. Taking an extra few minutes to plan will prevent the inevitable procrastination that comes with the uncertainty of a blank page.
You have a clear plan
Some people write more spontaneously (I know I do), but outlining an important scene or paragraph does have its benefits. You won’t have to guess what your characters will do next or what your next paragraph will contain.
You won’t make as many mistakes
Even though the topic about structure has its debates, writing has a generally accepted format at the end of the day. A story has a inciting incident, climax, and resolution; an argumentative piece has a thesis statement and supporting evidence; and a social media post has a hook coupled with gripping copy. If you create a writing outline beforehand, you’ll be less likely to miss certain narrative elements of your piece.
You Can Work on the Craft of Writing
You can write the simplest story in the world and be successful if the words strike reader’s hearts. Outlining beforehand gives you the opportunity to work on your storytelling and focus on the word choice. After all, an interesting premise combined with gripping prose will keep readers turning the pages.
The Cons of Outlining
While there are many benefits to making a writing outline, there are some cons that come with this, too.
It can hinder creativity
Designing a writing outline can hinder the flow of the creative side of your mind. Writing might feel more like school if you outline, and you might rush deciding what you want to include in a scene for the sake of having a completed outline. Sometimes stories and works are best when you have more time to think about them rather than working out all the details beforehand.
Sometimes writing takes a direction of its own
Sometimes your creativity wants to dictate how you’ll finish your piece. You might think of a brand-new plot twist or come across a source more relevant to your case. Oftentimes writers will deviate from their writing outlines when they come up with new ideas, but you’ll most likely have wasted your time if you don’t use over half of it.
Also, believe it or not, sometimes characters decide to do things you didn’t plan on before. Being open allows your story to move more fluidly and lets your words take on a more creative style.
Let’s face it, writing outlines can be tedious to make. Outlining involves a lot of brain power and work that you might not even be passionate about. Sometimes writing is more fun when you’ve got a blank page and a brain that spits ideas out as you type.
You Might not even Need One
Some people are born with the tremendous gift of knowing what they want to write and then just do it. The idea for their blog post is in their brain, then they’ll type it out and proofread.
If you’re an individual who already has a vision for your work, then you might not need an outline.
It wastes time that you could be spending writing/doing something else
Some people will waste time thinking about writing, talking about writing, forming an outline, but never actually write. If you think you might fall prey to further procrastination, making an outline might not be the path for you.
Furthermore, outlining can take time away that you could be spending with your family or on another hobby. Many people have only a short amount time to work on writing, and you want to make sure you’re using yours in a way that helps you progress.
The Choice is Up to You
With these pros and cons, the decision to make a writing outline ultimately falls onto you. It might not hurt to give this method a try if you haven’t; after all, there’s much trial and error in the world of writing! Good luck on your future piece.