Should Discovery Writers Outline?


Fiction writers can be divided into two broad types: architects who draw up thorough plot outlines before they start writing, and gardeners, or discovery writers, who just dive in and play it by ear.

Some writers are natural outliners. Others are natural gardeners. A common complaint of the latter is that they lose interest in writing once they “know how the story ends.” These are the writers who feel like they have a story inside burning to get out, and writing the outline satisfies that urge.

An architect approaches writing a novel like a builder approaches a construction project. He drafts plans, lays the foundation, and knows exactly where the project is going and how much work is left at pretty much all times. This approach has several advantages:

  • Prevents you from writing yourself into a corner
  • Keeps your characters in line
  • Helps you make deadlines
  • Stronger endings in general
  • Lets you keep series continuity straight
But should discovery writers outline if doing so kills their motivation?

As a professional editor, I can confidently say that every author needs to outline. At least half of all developmental problems in my gardener clients’ manuscripts would have been solved by outlining.

If you’re a discovery writer, don’t worry. Your “To outline or not to outline?” dilemma has a simple solution. 

Go ahead and fly by the seat of your pants on the first draft. Then write an outline, and revise your manuscript using it as a guide.
Don’t know how to write an outline? My professional author client Adam Lane Smith presents an easy-to-follow outline guide in his best selling how-to book Write Like a Beast. Read it now!

Write Like a Beast - Adam Smith

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