To Outline or To Free Write?

Do you begin with an outline or do you begin by free writing and thus working backwards? I see myself as a pretty organized person when it comes to planning. I think I thrive on planning, be it what to cook for guests, or what to pack for a trip. Though planning tend to stress me out, I feel a lot better having a tangible reference list as a result. During my younger days of mothering, I would make weekly menus. It would take me a while to make the menu (my mother has the same problem of taking a long time figuring out what to cook), but once it was done, the week was easier to handle. In fact, my planning was such that I was able to dabble in cake decorating amidst caring for three children under the age of 4, while also keeping up with a daily exercise regimen and breastfeeding a baby.

With writing, I try to apply the same method, by making an outline for essays, stories or articles. Nevertheless, it seems that I tend to lean more towards free-writing, though outlines do help me with my bearings. I have written stories and essays from rough outlines, but I have also successfully written essays by free writing.

I recall reading an interview in the Writer’s Digest of a writer who would literally put together pieces of his writings to make up an essay or article. I notice myself doing the same thing, though I deal only with soft copies, utilizing several Microsoft documents. I am currently still working on the essay for the Mothering Across Cultures anthology, and amawaiting feedbacks from some friends. When I sent the essay to my husband for critique last night, he returned it and scratched my last few paragraphs.

I asked him why. He, being a researcher, said,

“It was running away from the topic.”

A previous feedback brought me to the obvious observation that I was trying to explore 3 issues in a 3000 word essay. I trimmed it but still touched on three issues. My husband suggested I do away with the third issue altogether.

That’s what happens when you work backwards. Had I faithfully followed an outline, I would have realized this sooner. Nevertheless, had I followed an outline, I would have felt smothered. I noticed that I would edit myself as I write when I followed an outline, though not all the time. Shutting down that inner editor can be difficult sometimes. You just have to be in the right frame of mind to let the words flow without the inhibitions of an inner editor.

So do I outline or do I free write? I guess, looking from my writings so far, I am better able to quell the inner editor by free writing. However, I have gotten stuck a number of times. You could say it’s the equivalent of getting lost on your trip to the North Pole. So in that case, I would sometimes revert to making an outline. So, maybe a combination of both? Free writing enables me to write my heart out, but outlining helps ground me to reality, and most importantly the word count.

Right now, I’m working on the essay for the Mommy Bloggers anthology. I started out with an outline, but then I ignored it and free wrote, but now I’m kind of lost. So I guess I’ll regain my bearings by making a new outline. Whatever works, Juli. Whatever works.

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