Outlining: Yes or No?

On FaceBook Karen asked if I write from an outline. This is one of those questions that comes up quite often, for every writer. I understand the impulse: the idea that there’s a way to tame the process, impose some order on it and strip away some of the anxiety.

Some writers do outline, and in detail. I don’t know any of them personally, but the rule is: if it works for you, it works. I do not outline.

I start with a couple characters, and a scene. My subconscious seems to do a lot of the work at this stage, because things pop onto the page without a lot of warning or thought. The beginning is also the hardest part: I have, on occasion, rewritten an opening paragraph a hundred times. In a week’s time. I move phrases and words around, strike sentences, put them back in, shift pov and put it back again.

At some point it feels right, and that’s where it starts.

Now, outlining does come into play in very specific circumstances. When I was writing the last quarter of Queen of Swords I was balancing the Battle of New Orleans — complicated troop movements, the way specific individuals were involved, and about ten plot threads that were intersecting. I seem to get myself into this kind of a pickle on a regular basis, but by this far into the novel I’m not easily ruffled. What I have to do is to write out a chronology — hour by hour, sometimes — and mark those historical events that I have to leave as they occurred. There’s a lot of information out there about battles for every war on the continent, and I read that stuff to make sure I don’t blunder in a big way. I may make a couple notes on those things that need to be resolved in a chapter.

So, no. I don’t outline in the traditional sense. I’ve tried to,, once or twice, and found it pretty much impossible.  Not the way my mind works.