There’s No Time for Outlining When You’re On Deadline

You don’t always know where you’re going when you start. And that’s OK.

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I didn’t always take deadlines seriously. Until I started working in a news-focused environment that required I write a lot of things very quickly.

Writing can feel overwhelming when you don’t know where you’re going with a story. But I think everyone has to learn to deal with that at some point. Even if they never work in news or any kind of journalism. Even if they just write for themselves, at their own pace.

I understand that every writer is different, and that some people need to plan ahead as much as possible before they write anything.

These people just aren’t cut out for newsrooms or working with clients who demand sudden, quick turnarounds. And that’s OK.

Not every writer is good at everything. That’s why some of us write novels over a span of 5+ years, and the rest of us crank out 5+ news briefs in one morning.

It’s why, no matter how much you might want a promotion, you don’t think you could do — and don’t want to — do your boss’s job. It’s why creative collaborations sometimes work really well. They allow people with different skills to come together to make something great. One person’s weakness is another person’s strength.

But I don’t think that, just because you don’t work on tight deadlines, you should spend too much time planning and not enough time writing. I know people who plan out their entire novels — scene by scene — and never get around to actually writing them.

Learn to be a little spontaneous. One of the things I’ve come to love about fiction writing is how surprised and delighted I feel when “my characters” take the story I’m writing in an unexpected direction. I don’t want to know what’s going to happen next. I want to let it unfold as I go.

But … that’s just me.

My overall opinion is that the reason many writers “can’t write” is that they feel like they’re supposed to know all the answers and solutions before they even start constructing the equation.

Once again, my suggested answer to basically every writing problem is “just write anyway.” I know that doesn’t work for everyone. But I think many writers could benefit from taking the advice to heart. Planning to write is not writing. But it can be beneficial if you actually, you know. Write what you plan. Or what you didn’t plan. However it ends up working out.

Plus, the best way to get better at meeting deadlines is to practice meeting deadlines — by not spending all your writing time on outlines.

Do you outline? Does it work for you? Do you write better when you have a plan, or when you “just go and see what happens”?


Meg is the creator of Novelty Revisions, dedicated to helping writers put their ideas into words. She is a staff writer with The Cheat Sheet, a freelance editor and writer, and a 10-time NaNoWriMo winner. Follow Meg on Twitter for tweets about writing, food and nerdy things.


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