Two things are true about me. First, I have some mild obsessive-compulsive tendencies, mostly manifesting as a need to optimize and organize things (but not extending to making my bed in the morning, because I’m not a monster). And second, I am, as of this stage in my development as a writer, deathly afraid of outlining.
All indications point to someone like me being in his natural habitat when it comes to planning out stories. And yet, everything I have written so far has been the very essence of pantsing, discovery writing through and through. I tried to figure out why that was, and what I came up with was both surprising, and at the same time quite obvious.
Planning out your work, as I understand it, is a way to create a structure for how it is going to go, in terms of story, theme, worldbuilding, or characters. When I listen to outliners describe the things they put down before they start writing, it feels paralyzing. I just don’t know any of this in advance! How am I supposed to begin an outline?
And I realized that I do this in my head. It is chaotic, and subject to constant revisions – as I guess all discovery writing is – but precisely because I am so prone to organizing and structuring things in my life, it is actually easier for me to hold an abstract structure in my head, rather than try to put a concrete one on digital paper.
Because the flip side of having this kind of personality means that I don’t know where to draw the line. When I try to outline, what happens is that every bullet point has a subset of bullet points, each of which needs to have further clarifying bullet points, and then I have to color them differently, based on purpose, character, or theme… and then I am absolutely lost, and feel defeated and unable to continue.
However, one does not write The Next Great Epic Space Fantasy Series through pure discovery writing. Or maybe one does, but not this one. So I have been forcing myself to learn to outline simpler stories, without adding more than the absolute bare minimum to each bullet point. And it is manageable, of course, and something I will get better at. But it was still a strange feeling, not being able to do something it seemed I should be a natural fit for.
Maybe this realization is only a surprise to me, and every other writer in the world already knows that personality types and writing habits don’t always overlap. But I thought it interesting, and hopefully others will too. It showed me that even as I am learning how to better put my thought process into a word medium, there is no particular “right” way to do so, even if it seems like there should be.