Outlines are friends, not foes

Illustration of your writing on and off outlines

“I don’t use outlines. I just like to write and let it all flow out,” my 13-year-old cousin told me.

We were on the phone brainstorming her essay for a contest, and I had to laugh when I heard what she said.

“Let me stop you there,” I said. “You need an outline.”

I told her I understood. I soooo hated outlines in high school. They were like insulting paperwork that I was supposed to do when I just wanted to write and write and write. Outlines were The Man, and I was sticking it to him by not writing one. They were only used by boring writers who had no imagination.

Ohhh how the winds of time change opinions I once thought absolute.

Outlines are now my friend. I carry them around in my pocket like little writing superheroes ready to come out and make my thoughts gel. Years of writing have taught me that I am not good enough to forsake humble tools, like outlining and expect words to fall gracefully from my fingers.

So I told my cousin she had to write an outline. For heaven’s sake, she only has 1700 characters. She needs an outline. Beginning. Middle. End. It can be that simple.

The winning argument for outlines, I told her, is that it focuses the writer back on the audience. Outlines make me boil down my story to the main points so that my readers understand why I’m writing in the first place.

(Is this where I say I didn’t outline this post? I bet you can tell.)

It seemed counterintuitive to me as a teen, but turning the focus away from myself makes my writing better. I’m the only one who wants to read my first draft madness (“want” is a strong word) so any time dedicated to outlining is well spent.

Go forth and write. But outline first.


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