3 Ways Outlines don’t Work

  |   Better Writing Print Friendly and PDF

Outlines are the default tool for book planning. After all we all learned to outline in elementary school. High school and college teachers had us submit outlines for review before we wrote papers for them. Besides all that tradition, outlining is the only tool most of us have for planning writing of any kind.

Don’t get me wrong. Outlines are a useful tool, they’re just not the most effective tool for many tasks, such as when you’re just beginning to plan your book. Here are three reasons why.

Outlines Limit Creativity

When you start planning your book it’s a time for creative thinking. You want to generate lots of ideas so you can pick the best later in the process. An outline doesn’t do that. Outlines show a limited number of choices in a linear format.

You’ll do better with tools like Mind Mapping and Snowflake Writing that open up your thinking instead of narrowing it down. Save the outline for later stages in the book planning process.

Outlines List the Wrong Things

Outlines are designed to list your points. Points are great. Teachers love points. But they’re not where natural human thinking and learning start. We love stories and concrete examples.

Whatever you do in the early stages of your book planning, you want to collect as many stories and examples as you can. Some writers even start with stories and develop points later.

Outlines Show an Order of Presentation

That’s what outlines are for, which makes them bad for early stage planning. It’s just too early in the process to start making decisions about what will come first and what will come next in your book.

Bottom Line

Outlines shut down the creative process and force the ideas you have into line. That’s exactly what you don’t want when you’re just setting out to plan your book.

Join The Conversation

Cancel

What People Are Saying

Ken Carroll   |   16 Feb 2012   |   Reply

Wally,

Much wisdom here. Just this statement alone is golden: “Outlines are designed to list your points. Points are great. Teachers love points. But they’re not where natural human thinking and learning start. We love stories and concrete examples.”

I actually use the 80/20 rule in this regard – write mostly to illustrate not to explain, particularly as we so often write about ideas. You have to put ideas to work, as it were.

Great work.

Wally   |   17 Feb 2012   |   Reply

Thanks for the kind words and the superb summation, Ken.