: rage against the outline :

handcuffsAll right, I will: do you know what I see when I see an outline? Handcuffs. I see a to-do list. A killjoy. I do not see the helpful, practical tool everyone else does. Let me explain why.

Like you, I was introduced to the wretched things in a 6th grade English class. I didn’t like them from the get-go. The talk about logical ordering and overviews, about organizing ideas and grouping? Baloney. It was more work, plain and simple. I liked the sound of ideas, that was promising, but the talk about logical ordering was really unnerving. You see, I don’t have a logical bone in my body.

Besides, I’m a spur-of-the-moment girl — wait, why lie? I’m slapdash. I go wherever my mind takes me, I don’t plan. Or predict. Or have the vaguest notion where we’re headed. I just pick up a pencil and, puttputtputtputt, off we go. My brain leads the way. How does one put that in outline form? One doesn’t. Not if one wants a passing grade.

Outlines, with their headings and hierarchies and subsections and fancy Roman numerals, take all the fun out of writing. They leave no room for surprises or flights of fancy, acting as they do as an anchor on imagination. Their purpose, it seems, their raison d’être is to keep you focused. In itself, that’s not a bad thing; focus is necessary. But I’m more partial to wiggle room, thank you, lots of it.

A wandering mind is a happy mind, that’s what I say. And a happy mind is a wondrous thing. When you have an outline, your course has been set. Mapped out, so to speak. What’s left to think about? Where is there to wander? This goes here, that goes there, follow the bouncing ball. That’s not fun, it’s akin to watching a movie when you know the ending.

Detours, those are fun. Ditto for sudden turns and flying blind and wild goose chases. You might not know where they’ll lead or what you’ll find on the way, but you know the trip will be a gas. The worst you can expect is an occasional dead-end, but so what?

You’re just as likely to stumble into an epiphany and that, my friends, is what we all seek: a dazzling flash of insight and revelation and understanding. That moment when everything makes brilliant sense. It’s our pot of gold at the end of the rainbow.

Now, who’s ready to diagram sentences?

Copyright © 2013 Publikworks

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21 Responses to “: rage against the outline :”

  1. camrynforrest57

    I so agree with you! I hated outlines then and despise them now. I don’t know where my story is going to take me: I’m along for the ride.
    You find many interesting places when you drive without a map, writing can be like that, too. Surprise yourself. You’re not lost if you don’t care where you are going.

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    • publikworks

      A former boss used to demand an outline before I’d work on a project. That job was very short-lived. He treated everything like a dissertation: he wanted footnotes, sources, the whole she-bang. For advertising copy. Yikes, that was scary. He didn’t know what an imagination was, I don’t think. Thanks for backing me up, camryn.

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  2. Gunmetal Geisha

    This is disturbing to me on a personal level (outlines, not the post): I start an advance screenwriting workshop tonight. Half the workshop will write a feature film (my half), the other half will work on an outline (treatment) of their film for three months. My half is supposed to show up with said outline already done. Tonight. I didn’t do it, thinking I want the first draft of my script to be free-flowing, etc. Now I’m faced with the thought that I might be relegated to working on an OUTLINE for THREE MONTHS. It was therefore very strange to see your post in my Reader.

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    • publikworks

      Uh-oh. Well, you could do what I did: write the thing first, then do the outline. Or maybe a treatment gives you more leeway than a stiff, formal essay?

      I hope your workshop went well, Gunmetal Geisha. And good luck, let us know how things turn out.

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    • publikworks

      Hi, Nicole. I can’t imagine you ever being stifled, your stuff is absolutely amazing. And so, so clever — I envy you.

      I squeaked through school by doing the paper first, outline last. I had no idea where to start when I was faced with an outline. I still don’t. Gah!

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  3. Herbert von Pluckin

    I often find myself doing outlines and then going off on complete tangents anyway. Draw the lines just so you can colour outside them and track how far you’ve gone from your original ‘plans’.

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  4. Margaret Grant

    Outlines are fine if you want to write an outline, but once it’s done, you’re done and it’s time to write something else.

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