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John Adamus @awesome_john
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I thought today we'd have a nice chat about outlines today.

Are they the enemy? Are you making them the enemy? What do they do? What good are they? Why is this the hill people want to die on?

#ontheporch #amwriting #amrevising #writerlife #amwritingromance #amwritingfantasy
For reasons I never learned in school and have only barely begun to learn in life as a professional, people absolutely love labels for their work, and the work of others. It gives them something to debate, it gives them something to cling to or hide from.
Right up there with the show-vs-tell argument is another ancient battlefield with its own misconceptions, assumptions, heaps of bullshit, and utility.

Pantser and plotter.

Yeah, we're going there today.
PANTSER, as in "fly by the seat of your pants" is the side of the argument that suggests a level of reduced planning while being spontaneous and just "letting it flow maaaaan."

You don't do a lot of prep, you lean into trusting your process, you just do whatever feels best.
PLOTTER, as in "I structure and organize before writing" is the side of this debate that suggests more planning happens before the writing, and that having things laid out in advance makes it easier to produce whatever it is you're doing.
One of the first issues to deal with is:

Why do you "have to" take a side?

Well, to fit in with a group, of course John. Duh.
Radical proposal - ditch the groups.

There are benefits to both side that can ultimately serve your creativity.

Because a better question to ask is - what's more important to you - having a side or producing the best work you can?
But wait, you say from wherever you're sitting, I don't like outlining. I never outline!

Or maybe you're saying I have to figure out what I'm going to say, I can't just write.

This isn't a debate about correct and incorrect, it's about rigidity and flexibility.
Pantsers, you're saying you *never* outline?

You've never followed a recipe, made a grocery list, balanced a checking account, tried to assemble toys or furniture, or looked at the back of a package?

Oh I see, you're making an arbitrary distinction that you don't follow some rigid structure when it's time to be creative.

Who said it had to be rigid?

I mean other than people trying to make you take a side in a debate?
Plotters, you're saying that rigidity is comforting, how many ways do you make lunch?

How many places do you have to sit down in your home?

There's value in not-planning some stuff, but that means you gotta trust yourself. Which is scary, I know.
In both cases, the challenge is to trust yourself.

To write an outline, to organize in SOME capacity.

To let go of the expectation that it can only be a certain way in order to be good enough or "right"
So let's talk about outlines.

They don't have to be all Roman numerals and capital letters.

Nothing wrong with bullet points, or scribbled notes on a legal pad, or a big spreadsheet like you can get at…
Anything that helps you sort what you want to write from what you're not interested in writing counts as an outline.

It's a document FOR YOU to HELP YOU. No one gives a shit what it looks like.

Nor is it a sign that you're a loser or a failure or whatever because you use one
If you want to dive into what does or doesn't go into an outline I've got some stuff on the blog about it -

It can also be a thread topic for next week.
But ultimately, an outline's job is to help you, not impress someone else. Or prove anything to anyone else.
Now, non-outlining people, hey, thanks for waiting.

Your creativity is in no way stifled by making decisions in advance of when you have to make decisions.

You're gonna make them anyway, so why does time matter?
Oh right, you think that you can't change your mind once you write something down.

Dude, no. If you sit in front of that blank page during writing-go-time and you think of a better thing on the spot, USE IT.

Again, who's gonna know or care that it was or wasn't in the outline
Writing is an act of making decisions. The product of those decisions is your manuscript.

Anything that helps organize and corral the heaps of decisions you'll have to make is not going to stifle you, it'll liberate you.
Because you'll get to that point of "Shit, what happens here" and you'll actually have an idea that maybe you'll use or it'll at least get you thinking ... thus sparing you from dog paddling around and then not-writing ... unless you like beating yourself up later for it.
I'm suggesting that hybridization of the do-i-outline-or-do-i-not is going to help you best.

Like jazz. There's sheet music, and in parts of it it'll just say "16 bar solo" and then you make something up.
And don't let the "make something up" freak you out, it's what you were gonna be doing when you're just sitting and staring at the screen.

I just want you to be productive about it.
If something works for you, keep doing it.

If it doesn't, stop doing it.

But take a good look at "works" - are you actually getting words on pages or is this some hot air you blow to rationalize and comfort and play non-threatening not-risky pretend at writing?
I know a lot of creatives who make the craft precious.

I used to be one of them.

The shit I dumped in my body, from sugar to pills to booze to dope were all supposed to be the things that made the stuff I did "special."

Nah, that's just the lie I told myself.
Craft IS precious, but that's because you're the only one who can do it the way you can.

Craft is a set of trainable skills and their applications in a demonstrably productive way with positive benefits to yourself and others.
So thinking that organizing it affects its "special"ness is not helpful. Like at all. Ever.

The free rangeness of it is not what makes it special.

It's that you sat down and did the thing rather than just let it hang out in your brain.
Do not fear the outline.

Do not fear not using one.

Do not use it as a gatekeeper to sort the good from the not-good writers.

Every writer, every book, they're all different and require different tools and methods.
Do a little of both. Do what works when it works best.


Go do the work.

You're good enough to take the first steps.
Thanks for reading.

I'll be over here, believing in your ability to make progress and do the stuff, even the scary stuff.

Seize your minutes and be brave enough to give enough of a shit about your work that it becomes bigger than the fear of fucking it all up.
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