Every writer knows that when you get a spark––call it inspiration or your Muse, it’s hard to ignore when it comes a knocking. You wouldn’t want to ignore it anyway. It’s every writer’s lifeline. It’s what drives you to indulge in what you love and wish to create. No one would call themselves a writer if they didn’t love writing or get an overwhelming sense of joy in creating something they have imagined in their head. Words are what brings your imagination into physical being. Depending on the writer, some are able to just sit at their computer and construct the story in their heads immediately. Others prefer to start with a rough outline of how they want their story to unfold before they start typing it out. I fall into the latter category for the most part.
An outline helps when you want to brainstorm how you want your story to play out from beginning, middle, and end. You can use it to detail the physical characteristics of your character, their personality, their strengths and weaknesses, and their relationships to other people. What’s great about including an outline in your writing process is it keeps you focused on the story you’re writing. If an idea or thought suddenly pops into your head and you feel it will make a great scene in your story much later, then you can always pull up your notes and include it in there for safekeeping.
Outlines can always change and evolve at any given moment. Just because you originally thought Plot Point A will move your story forward doesn’t mean you can’t change it and go with the newly crafted Plot Point B. A lot of writers say a story will just write itself without them needing to control the direction of it. The words will just flow and it’s effortless. Typically, it’s an intuitive feeling many writers just need to let happen because you never know where your writing will take you. It may even surprise you.
I personally like sketching out an outline when I’m writing a much more detailed and multiple chapter story. It reminds me of the vision I have in mind while also leaving room to change things as I see fit. Without a clear outline, I sometimes feel a little lost and I forget what’s the purpose of me wanting to write the story I have laid out in front of me. The outline also gives me structure when I have so many ideas swimming in my head and all of them are clamoring for my attention at once. I thrive in organization and any sort of chaos or clutter tends to throw me off completely.
I don’t always use outlines for everything I write. Shorter stories and even blog posts are instances where I would write on the spot when the mood strikes me. Whatever idea happens to pop into my head at the time, I “throw” words onto the computer screen, keep typing without editing myself out, and then go back to the draft later to do necessary edits if required. An outline doesn’t feel necessary because this type of writing tends to be much shorter and not an ongoing writing project I need to keep coming back to. Once it’s written, edited, and published for the world to see it’s considered finished in my opinion.
It is possible to go back to a short story later to retweak certain parts of the writing, but I tend to not publish these stories anywhere and they are mainly written for my eyes only. Who knows? Maybe I might try publishing them one day, but today isn’t that day. Not yet anyway.
Outlines are helpful for exercising those imagination muscles. I find the pre-process of writing prepares and helps me get excited about starting on my story. When you think up all the possibilities of where your story can go or the characters you can’t wait to “meet” and get to know during the course of your writing, you really can’t resist the urge to open that word document right away and let your fingers fly across the keys with gleeful abandon.
The best thing about being a writer? You’re transported right back into the days when you were a child and your imagination has no limits. Anything is possible when you have a vision and the ability to express what you want into words.