So there’s two types of writers out there. Ok, probably more, but for the sake of this post, there are two. Those that outline and those that don’t. More colloquially, the people that do not use outlines, such as myself, are known as “pantsers,” which comes from the expression “by the seat of our pants.” I haven’t come across a word that describes “outliners” save for “outliners” itself. But I don’t really like that, because it sounds like “outsiders.” Maybe “non-pantsers?” Or, how about writing with “Pants” and “No pants?” Hmm….
Anyway. More to the point. I’m a hardcore “panter” type of writer. Even when I was in school, I loathed the thought of organizing my stories in some semblance of order, instead just letting my muse do whatever he or she wanted. I thought the act of outlining was pretty pointless, honestly. I mean, I know what I’m gonna write, so why waste time writing it down? And if we stumble across something that doesn’t reflect the vision of our story, then we have one of those “Happy Accidents” Bob Ross would always talk about. Only in written form.
But as I grow older, I realize that outlining may have its uses. And nowhere is it more evident than in the collaboration work my wife and I are writing. She’s like, the total opposite of me when it comes to writing. She’s got mountains and mountains of background notes, character descriptions, interviews, story notes, and everything. But that’s just who she is. She’s an artist, and I guess details are like, important to those people or something 🙂
So, when we decided to write something together, it was easier for me to follow an outline than it was for her to “write by the seat of her pants.” In the end, we’ve come to meet sort of in the middle, but more closely towards the outlining part of the spectrum, and it isn’t too bad.
While forming outlines together, we can joke about funny or strange character interactions and stuff like that. More importantly, we can use these outlines as not a guide to our story, but as a springboard for our ideas, where I think the real power behind outlines lie.
Even if you do outline, it doesn’t have to be concrete. I personally enjoy writing all those “Happy Accidents” as I call them, as those help me get a better understanding of who my characters are. And if we use outlines as a springboard, or a jumping off place for our ideas, those little accidents can still happen. And my wife is is very tolerant with my personal style, in that we have maybe two pages outline for our full length novel, and we plan our individual scenes together, which leaves me enough wiggle room to write as I’m most comfortable while keeping my wife comfortable at the same time.
But it wasn’t easy getting to that point. We both spent the better part of a month tripping over each others muses, and it got frustrating at times. But then one day, everything just sort of fell into place. I think it took about 40 pages or so, including a few rewrites to reach that point. And I’m glad we did. She’s going write with me a lot more in the future, and it’s looking like it’s going to be a lot of fun and work out just fine.
So the moral of the story is this: Write the way you feel is best, but don’t necessarily discount the opposite side of the spectrum. In fact, I’d suggest all writers to give it a shot. If nothing else, you might end up with another cool story or a few ideas. And maybe you find that writing a couple of notes–or filling up less outline pages–is just what your muse needed to move into high gear and really get some things done.