I outline my writing. There, I said it. I know, it’s a dirty secret, but sometimes you just gotta come clean.
There are a lot of writers who never outline, who would rather be forced to watch educational TV programs for babies for hours on end. Me, I tried the outline-free way of writing, and it really didn’t work for me.
I like to know where I’m going. I like to know how I’m going to get there. And I like to know the steps I’ll be taking along the way.
This doesn’t mean I feel straitjacketed by my outlines. They are merely road maps, and I’m always open to taking a different road if one comes along that is more interesting than the one I had planned. When that happens, I cheerily throw the outline away and pull out a fresh piece of paper (or open a new file in my writing software).
But an outline forces me to think about the work as a whole, from the prelude to the closing curtain. It makes me look at the problems in my idea and find solutions for them. They may not be the final solution, as my subconscious brain often comes up with something better as I’m working on the details of the prose in the first part of the work, but having any solution at all is better than simply winging it. And the outline gives me an idea of how long the piece is going to wind up being. If the outline takes up the better part of a page, I know it’s going to be a good-sized short story. If it takes up the better part of a notebook, I’d better be thinking “trilogy” or more. 🙂
That said, the outline for the short story I’m currently working on is five medium-sized paragraphs written long-hand on a single sheet of paper, one paragraph for each of the “acts” of the story. There is still a major part of the story I haven’t figured out yet, so that part of the outline is somewhat sparse. My goal tonight is to figure out what to put into that hole in my outline so I can really start writing it this weekend.