I falter before I even begin drafting the essay. I scribble “I hate outling” on a scrap of paper to record this new idea I want to explore. We want to explore, until I ruin the “we” part. It’s meant to say outling. Ugh, I mess up again.
My new idea isn’t mine. It was a well-considered suggestion for a collaboration from my writing partner until I hijacked it, well, trashed it really.
a general description or plan giving the essential features of something but not the detail.
Doing outlines for projects at school always felt like having to warm up on scales and études before practicing the lovely violin sonata. Can’t we just jump to the pretty melody? Can’t we just skip right to the writing?
- I’ve always resisted outlines.
a. They are a rule, a requirement.
i. Everywhere? Or only in school?
ii. To sell a project
iii. They tell the writing what to do.
b. Who made the rule?
c. Rules are for resisting.
- What do outlines accomplish?
a. I admit, they look pretty.
b. They purport organization.
i. My thoughts are rarely organized.
ii. The outline is merely a form that looks organized but belies the disorganization of explanation.
iii. Isn’t disorganization pretty, too?
iv. If I organize my thoughts, I won’t be able to include the fun stuff.
c. I wanted a third letter because it feels right but I don’t have another accomplishment to list for outlines.
I am already shirking all responsibility for doing any of the outlining . . . but you will
have already noticed this and are already laughing. . .
- Who do outlines benefit?
a. Not me.
I did receive my first book contract on the basis of an outline. One that I wrote myself. Then I couldn’t manage to follow it until my editor suggested that I was under contract to do precisely that. Oh, right.
This is what we humans do. Change things we don’t like. Run away from things we don’t understand. Replace other people’s scary ideas with our own comfortable ones. “Don’t let me get away with that,” I say to my writing partner.
Do not ever allow me to silence you.
- Outlines essentialize the thoughts
a. Rambling thoughts are excised
i. I may have found a way to ramble within this outline.
ii. You may cut this.
iii. But know: I like it.
b. Taking away part of the thought to pare it down to its essentials is also a way of discarding part of the thought.
i. What if, like the peel of a potato, the discarded part has the most nutrients?
ii. What if the peel is what’s essential?
5. Outlines silence the brambles.
6. Outlines are best used at the end of a project.
a. If an outline is required, write first, then outline.
i. Let the writing tell the outline what to do.
b. Outlines are never meant to stand alone.
i. More is coming
ii. There are endless iterations.
This list was also part of the dictionary definition:
rough idea, thumbnail sketch, (quick) rundown, abbreviated version, summary, synopsis, résumé, precis, abridgment, abstract, reduction, digest, epitome, essence, storyline, storyboard, main points, gist, bones, bare bones, skeleton, draft, plan, sketch
- Outlines are about content.
a. My dictionary adds: trace, define, silhouette, storyboard, essence.
b. With these words, an outline looks more poetic.
i. Is it a poem?
Susan Wider’s nonfiction has been included in Orion, Wild Hope, Bird Watcher’s Digest, and Winter Bird Highlights (Cornell Lab of Ornithology) and her middle-grade biography It’s My Whole Life, Charlotte Salomon: An Artist in Hiding During World War II was published in Fall 2022 by Norton Young Readers.
Wendy BooydeGraaff’s fiction, poems, and essays have been included in X-R-A-Y, The Shore, NOON, Lost Balloon, and elsewhere. She is the author of Salad Pie, a children’s picture book (Ripple Grove Press/Chicago Review Press).
Artwork “Blend,”by R. Mac Jones
R. Mac Jones is a writer and visual artist. His work has appeared in venues such as NonBinary Review, Penumbric, Strange Horizons, and iō Literary Journal’s Refractions. He has a website, https://rmacjoneswrote.com/, always in need of updating.