Why I don’t outline

I love books. And movies. And fictional TV shows. I love stories.

My favorite thing about this writing gig is being the first person to see the stories. It’s like being the person who records a great story for publication, airing, screening, whatever…

You know what I hate?

Spoilers. Knowing what’s going to happen.

That is the easiest way for me to explain why I don’t outline. I don’t want to know what is going to happen. It ruins my enjoyment. I try not to willingly do things I don’t enjoy. Life is too short.

Do I think not outlining is the right way to write?

Nope. It’s one way.

I even enjoy outlining a story. It’s a fun, creative process. I started out as an outliner. I have even done my share of snowflakes!

I’ve never completed anything I’ve outlined, though. I lose interest.


The outline is a spoiler. I had my fun with the story. Now, I have to go back and write it…knowing how it ends? Not fun.

But I did learn something, even when I had an outline, my creative self could not stay on the train tracks. It would run right off those mo-fos, and WOW did some crazy fun stuff happen…however, the pull of the rails followed… not cool.

Now, I sit down and follow the characters around and record. I’m a happier and (IMO) better storyteller. If you’ve read Everything is Broken, I figured out whodunnit (not that I think that is the important thing in the story), when Fuzzy calls Indianapolis. That and the scenes that followed were a blast to write.

My current story? I sat down to write a Western, but Fuzzy was having none of that.

If it all sounds like mystical, woo-woo BS. It’s because it is, except for the BS part. But it works for me, and it means when I’m writing a book…actually writing…I’m also its first reader. I love that.

For the other writers out there, I’d love to hear how you keep the joy in your writing.



empty hallway
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11 thoughts on “Why I don’t outline

  1. I’m halfway between a plotter and a pantser.

    I need to have an outline–I don’t do well without structure, but I don’t want to make my structure so tight that I kill all of the possibility of my characters surprising me. Often times, I know I’ll want to hit a certain beat at a place (this is where the wife will betray the husband) but I’ll leave how exactly that unfolds to be worked out as I make my way through the draft.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. David, you’re just a damn centrist in everything! (kidding). The one tool that I’ve learned that writers like myself can use is a reverse outline. Which basically you record briefly elements of the scene after you’ve written it, so you are able to see the structure of your story evolve…and if you need to “jump back” and add something like the killer definitive limp which shows up later or whatever you can do that. It also is invaluable for series writers in developing a “series bible” to maintain consistencies. Having said all that, I don’t do a real good job of this despite the best intentions. Probably out of sheer laziness…the result as it comes to the series? I ask my wife a lot of questions like “What was Jimmy Alou’s wife’s name again?”. LOL. As for structure, I don’t worry too much about it. I read a lot. I go back and try to figure out why I like the stories I do… and I even read a lot of the plot and structure advice out there (including outlining). And then? I just focus on a scene (or sequel) level, use them as building blocks. I think I (and all of us actually) absorb so much story in my lifetime, that when the time comes I can just shit something like structure out. Thanks for commenting. I think my reply may be longer than the original post.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. For an outliner, I think the reverse outline can be a recognition that the outline is a living document…I suppose. In fact, if you aren’t strict about keeping things on the rails, I would think it’s a best practice.


  2. Tony; finished everything is broken;really enjoyed it on so many levels; the writing. story characters , etc. looking forward to more of your books and hopefully someday that western!!;Neil Gordon


  3. I’m a centrist too. I start out pantsing just to get a feel for the characters and where the story is going. I have a good inner sense for pacing, so when I feel I’m about halfway in I start outlining, zooming back out to see where the major plot points have happened thus far, and how to build on them. I do that because endings are my weakest point (I can’t even write them when I’m writing nonfiction!) so without an outline I might never finish! That said, the outline is the barest bones I can make it so that I don’t, like Dave said, overdo it and kill all the surprise.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Ha, “without an outline I might never finish!” With an outline I’ll never finish…but a different kind of finish…i.e. I’ll never reach the end. BTW your novella is next up on Mt. TBR for me.


  4. I love this line ‘when I’m writing a book…actually writing…I’m also its first reader’. It is soo true! My first draft is always me just reading the story as the words flow from my pen. I then will go back and outline my second draft just so I know my theme and point to the story, if I have one, did not fade away.
    I always enjoy writing the first draft far more than any of the other drafts. But to keep it fun, I allow for lots of wiggle room in my stories. Sometimes even in the third revision I have a new character pop up and create a bit of fun or chaos, depending on how you look at it.

    Outlining as you say is one of many ways of writing a story and there are so many ways to outline. I keep hearing about snowflaking but honestly have no idea what it is, so that will be your next link I check out. Happy Writing


  5. Once upon a time, I, too, was an outliner. And like you, never finished the stories. Probably because I also grew bored.

    Pretty good at writing into the dark now with short stories, but have struggled a bit with taking that to novels. I think it’s just because I need more practice, so I carry on! I’d rather have fun and a little bit of stress than work from an outline, be bored and have a LOT of stress. 😉


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