Most writers fall into two categories: those who outline before writing and those who just write. In my case, I tend to utilize both methods. I like knowing ahead of time where I’m going and how I’m going to get there. However, I also enjoy the freedom of taking a detour if the original road contains too many speed bumps. No matter what method you personally prefer, there are pros and cons that every writer experiences during the writing process.
Let’s examine the pros and cons of outlining first.
1. It’s too restrictive. There are those who stick to the game plan and avoid the unbeaten path altogether. If that makes you feel comfortable, then by all means stick with it, but there’s a certain sense of being shackled to an original thought that could potentially stall the formation of a better idea.
2. There are no surprises. Surprises in writing are always fun for the reader, but when they happen to the writer, they aren’t necessarily good things. An outline eliminates any unwanted surprises such as a hole in your plot, the introduction of any unnecessary characters, or a storyline that’s choppy and doesn’t flow the way it should.
3. They keep you on task. Just like a ‘To Do’ list, an outline tells you where you need to go and what you need to do. It allows you to plan out what you’re writing that day and helps make your storyline flow more seamlessly.
4. Outlines ensure flow and help make for a more structurally sound plot. An outline is structure. When you know exactly what events are going to transpire and when they’re going to transpire it makes for a better constructed plot and less of a chance of cracks in your overall foundation.
Although more spontaneous, writing by the seat of your pants isn’t for everyone, but for those who do it, the following positive and negative aspects may be encountered:
1. Your creativity is allowed to shine through. Like a kid in a candy store, the possibilities are both endless and exciting when you write unrestricted and let your mind take you to places and people it wouldn’t have had you stuck with the original plan.
2. More writing is accomplished in less time. I know when I write by the seat of my pants, I feel freer and the words just come to me more naturally than when I try to restrict them to the content of an outline. Sometimes that’s a good thing, sometimes it’s more of a detriment, but I usually find that my word count for the day is higher and, for the most part, the content is solid when I write outline-free.
3 There’s more room for error. When you write without rules to go by, you’re more apt to break them. An outline lays out scene by scene instructions, ensuring a more fluid, relatively smoother writing experience without the standard errors that come without proper planning.
4. It can end up bogging you down. Even though you may write more when you let your mind take over, you may find that you end up doing a heck of a lot more editing. More words equal more filler and less meat to your story, subsequently leading to the trimming away of more fat.. You may find that this causes you to take more time with editing than you first anticipated, making this method of writing less productive in the long run.
At the end of the day, there really is no wrong way to write and no one manner of writing is better than the other. Different things work for different people. What matters is that it works for you and that you’re actually writing something as opposed to just staring at a blank sheet of paper.