What’s your writing style: rational or intuitive? Do you prepare an outline before you start drafting? Or do you discover what the structure will be as you draft?
Outline-and-Order writers prefer to know where they’re going; they check the map before they start the engine. Actually, they draw the map, then double-check as they drive to make sure they’re still on the planned route. They prefer the comfort of knowing where they’re going and how they’ll get there. They know that working out the kinks in advance will save them time and suffering later on. They fear that the blank page will be too intimidating and shut them down or too unstructured and let them ramble too far afield.
Draft-and-Discovery writers take an organic approach; they start the engine and see where the writing will take them. They trust the process and their own unconscious to sniff out a path they know is there even though they can’t see yet. They prefer the surprise of discovering where they’re going as they go. They know that deep creativity comes from the unconscious and their primary job is to get the conscious mind out of the way. They fear that too much planning will kill the creativity.
My fellow Teaching Artist at the Loft Literary Center Lori L. Lake says “Oddly enough, the outliners always seem so proud (almost sanctimonious) about their lists and charts and character arc templates and so forth, while the organic writers are so embarrassed to be floundering around.
“I’ve only had two outliners in all my classes who have actually finished their books, though. Sometimes, heavy emphasis on outlining takes the joy – and the mystery – out of the story, and they lose interest and don’t finish.
“I also think that all the focus on the left brain and being organized can sometimes overrun that soft, quiet creative voice and slow down the creative process.”
The Other Hand
Another seasoned writer who teaches at the Loft Literary Center Greg Breining writes “I find that if I write for too long without considering the larger picture (through some kind of outline) the piece takes off on its own – and rarely in a direction that is helpful.
“I may write that way for awhile, but then I feel I have to consider the overall direction before I simply get lost. I find that by having a grand design in mind, I can better exploit the material, because I have a better idea of what purpose it performs in the piece.”
Are Both Lost?
In From Where You Dream, Robert Olen Butler highlights the difficulties faced by two types of novelists (but it’s a distinction that can apply to any genre):
“First there are those who preplan. They outline. They know the end before they begin. But those who figure out what they’re going to say before they begin to say it are utterly lost, because if they adhere to the stages of their plan in a kind of ‘all right, that’s done’ sort of way, they will end up writing from their heads, automatically.
“Then there’s the draft writer, who leads an admirably dismal existence… The draft writer… is rightly afraid of being drawn into his mind and his analytical self. He would never preplan, because that would trap him like literal memory, like a ‘message,’ like preconceived ends, and thereby destroy his ability to get into the unconscious. So the draft writer feels the necessity of taking the merest hints to start a novel and then plunging in, making approximations, writing rough, by any and all means continuing to write and write through a great sprawling draft. And the draft writer relishes this. ‘Ah, I’ve got this mass of stuff, and OK, I’ve got to do the second draft now and the third and the fourth, and the seventeenth, and that’s fine.’ Great works of art have been created this way, and I suspect statistically it’s the more common way to write a novel. It’s done because those artists understand the danger of being sucked into their heads.
“But you know what? They’re just deferring the problem. Because once you have this great raw sprawling first draft, how do you find that leaner, more coherent second draft? The dangers of analysis are very powerful in that search.”
Where Do You Stand?
Before my next post explores how writers can resolve the great Outline vs. Draft Debate, I invite you to weigh in. Please comment with your difficulties and your solutions to this challenge.