To Outline Or Not To Outline? What A Stupid Question!


A better question would have been: do I need to outline? Because let’s face it, outlining and it’s counterpart, free-flowing, are not philosophical statements about the craft of writing; rather they are simply tools.

That’s right tools, which means it can be used poorly or properly depending on the writer’s proficiency. That means it’s all on YOU.

Now in today’s unsure and insurance-driven world, some statistically-inclined, trivia-spouting, mainstream-hating hipster motherfucker (who forgot he’s really just a nerd ’cause he took some drugs and got some tatoos) will be saying, “You know what, man, Warner Herzog said, outlining is for cowards.”

Look, I love Herzog. He’s a true rebel and one of the few left out there. But just like some professionally-outraged douchebag on TV who quotes a comedian out of context—disregarding the character, the intent, the message and the fact that nothing is sacred in comedy—hipster motherfuckers also tend to pull out quotes and drop names just to be an ironic contrarian.

Anyway, I digress. What I’m saying is there’s a time and place for outlining. Writing duo Preston and Child outlines, so do Faulkner, J.K. Rowling, and even Vince Gilligan, writer/director/showrunner of Breaking Bad. Why? Because they needed to and it worked for them.

Outlining works when you are planting seeds, weaving an intricate plot, going back and forth from a connecting timeline, protecting your work from deconstructing nerds by getting your facts right, or setting up the reader so they keep turning the page and surrender to that emotional roller coaster ride they will be thankful for it in the end.

So for those of you who think outlining somehow makes for a weak, character-driven story, Heisenberg has something to say to you.

“Go shove these Emmy’s up your ass!”

Now in Herzog’s and many other writers’ case (like Stephen King and Anne Rice to name a few), they don’t outline because they like to feel their way into the story, to make it spontaneous, fresh, authentic, and exciting. But in the same vein, Anne Rice also said, “The great thing about our profession is that there are no rules.” And since there are no rules, what we have left are only standards. That’s why it is so important to read and see what works and doesn’t work—to know what others have contributed, and to build standards.

To me, it’s useless and futile to think of the writing process as though it’s some sort of dogma or school of thought. Writing is the weapon of rebels. And you can’t sit there depleting the arsenal of your madness and sanity just because you are stressing about what is right and what is wrong. This is what happens when you romanticize the process, when you let it get to your head.

Let’s be clear on one thing, you are not an Artist with a capital “A.” Such term belongs to an age where you can slap someone with a leather glove and challenge him to a duel, all the while women are fainting in the background, wearing butt-pillows and sexy corsets. Those days are gone, goddamnit! Today you’re just an artist with a little “a,” got that? And although we all work in the arts, we are more of a craftsman rather than a high-fallutin auteur. But then again, being a master craftsman ain’t so bad; it just takes some work.

Today, people say “what doesn’t kill you makes you strong.” But what they don’t tell you is that, what doesn’t kill you will keep coming back again and again if you don’t stop it—if you do not change.

Refuse to live in the micro-level of thought where you philosophize and romanticize about your “art.” The reader doesn’t care and neither should you. What you need to do is work on scarring the page before all that you are is completely forgotten and erased by time. What you need to do is put in the work and see what works.

What you need to do is write.

Tom Clancy


  1. I came by to thank you for visiting my blog and totally fell in love with your writing 🙂 So, thank you for stopping by my blog AND thank you for such an awesome and straight forward take on the above subject.

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