There Are Two Kinds of Writers

27 Sep

There are two kinds of writers. Those who outline, and those who don’t. I am definitely in the second category, but having had some experience with trying to be  the first, I have a couple of things to say about the whole outline thing that may help other category 2 people.

The main thing is, what writers and editors call an outline would get you flunked in English. As someone who learned the hard way to outline very well in English 1A, I assumed that what was wanted was more of the same, with lots of I, II, II and A, B, C, and 1,2,3, descending in an elegant cascade to (a1.) (b2.) (c3.)


I don’t doubt there are some writers who do it this way, but the point is, most don’t and most editors don’t expect it. What they want is more properly a precis or a summary. You set down the story, add in such notes on characters or setting or whatever as you want — or don’t — and the editor is happy. You may be happy, too. Because it doesn’t really commit you to anyting. FOlllowing the outline you’ve sent in is no part of your contract. It’s just a document that shows you’ve thought your story through to the end, and if that changes — well, that’s what stories do almost every time.

So, if you’re a category 2 writer like me, you might want to try outlining just to see what it does for you if anything. You may find it helps you to think about your story, reduces your anxiety level, or makes the work go faster. But all of that said, I still like the words of Anne Lamott, who wrote, “Writing a novel is like driving at night by your headlights. You can’t see very far ahead, but you can get home that way.

2 Responses to “There Are Two Kinds of Writers”

  1. C.B. Wentworth September 27, 2011 at 2:17 am #

    I outline, but its definitely a more haphazard approach. I make lists for events in each chapter and eventually those lists link up with one another to create the whole of the novel. It’s a mess, but I can’t write without making the list or filling a notebook with ideas.

    • douglasrees September 27, 2011 at 3:26 am #

      Yes. Exactly. You’ve found your way to do it. Definitely sounds — dare I say it? — fun.

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