One question I always hear from aspiring writers is, “Do you outline your plots?”
I remember asking this question myself quite a few times, back in the Stone Age when I was typing scripts and stories on my IBM Selectric. If, by some weird stroke of fate, I happened to stumble across an honest to god real published writer (I didn’t do conferences in those days, didn’t know they existed, and there was no Internet), the subject of outlining came up pretty quickly.
Because, like all aspiring writers, I was always searching for what works. A lot of us look at someone else’s success and think, maybe I should do what they’re doing. Human beings seem to have this unending desire to emulate others in hope that some of the magic dust will rub off on us.
That would explain the thirty billion Star Wars clones that came out in the 1970’s, and the gazillion comic book movies put into production after the Batman and Iron Man franchises took off.
So when Bestselling Author X says he writes using an outline, it’s only natural for aspiring writers to think that they need to outline, too.
I can guarantee you without a moment’s hesitation that there are dozens, if not hundreds, of writing workshops going on in the world at this very moment where the workshop leader is telling his or her students to pull out the index cards and start mapping out their story. And this is NOT BAD advice.
The bad part is when they insist that this is the only way to properly construct a novel or screenplay.
The truth is, there is no one way to do anything in writing.
I was reminded of this in one of the comments from the How to Beat Writer’s Block post. And when I teach classes or do presentations or podcasts with my friend Brett Battles, I always try to remember to tell the audience that.
There is no single way to approach writing.
Robert Gregory Browne is an AMPAS Nicholl Award-winning screenwriter and novelist, currently under contract to St. Martin’s Press, Droemer Knaur, and Macmillan UK. He’s also published in Russia, Bulgaria and Denmark, and has a story in Lee Child’s crime fiction anthology, KILLER YEAR. He’s a member of MWA, ITW, RWA and is a regular columnist for the Anthony Award nominated writer’s blog, Murderati.