Artist vs. Editor: The Battle of Outlining

by Chase Stanley

Throughout the span of my creative writing experience, I’ve fallen under the impression that my writing style has reflected that of a pantser, a “no outline” person. Upon reading a segment written by James Scott Bell about plotting systems, I’ve learned that this is indeed true, though there is a certain grey area that has been opened for analysis.
            As detailed in his chapter on plotting systems, Bell discusses both techniques, that of developing an outline pre-writing, and that of winging it. As he describes it, “no outline” people “love to frolic in the daisies of their imaginations as they write. With nary a care, they let the characters and images that sprout in their minds do all the leading. They follow along, happily recording the adventures.” He describes the joyous act of writing by the edge of your seat with the metaphor of falling in love every day, an emotion I often feel when typing up a storm. I type quickly, randomly, nonchalantly and without a care. He then addresses the other side of said approach, the insecurity that results without a steady roadmap and a potential danger of never hashing out a sturdy plot.
            I’ve yet to ever give this threat proper thought, choosing instead to rely on instinct and freshness rather than appropriate structure. This quickly grew into concern, but Bell reassured me that neither the organized, outline style nor the winging it style are wrong. It merely depends on the individual and the varying degrees of comfort therein.
He describes different approaches that every writer can benefit from, yet encourages everyone to try out different styles for the sake of their work. By reviewing these techniques, I’ve found that I am more a mix of the two, leaning more so on the winging it side though able to construct my own system that will benefit my individual needs as an aspiring author.
Similar to the system he outlines for “outline people,” I do prefer reviewing material in hard, paper copy instead of giving myself a headache spending countless hours on the computer where, after awhile, the words begin to blend and appear the same. I enjoy physically going through my work, pen in hand, and editing the old-fashioned way before returning to the computer and making the changes. Bell also notes in the same section that flexibility is key and you must always be ready for “bursts of genius.” I often prepare ahead of time for said “bursts,” making a habit of carrying a mini-notebook in my back pocket, allowing myself to be flexible wherever I may be.
With that said, attempting to stay completely organized, at least in my experience, is feat not worth the headache. Before long, the storyboard will have proven itself too confusing and another hassle to hurdle. I’m fueled by the guarantied randomness of chaos. For the “no outline” people (aka my kind of people), Bell recommends setting a daily quota and not allowing yourself to do anything else until you meet said quota. A challenging request for us spontaneous, spur of the moment types, but a necessity for the sake of accomplishment.
My prior method has always been a bloody battle between my inner artist and inner editor. They constantly engage in combat though the artist, a stubborn warlord, usually wins out. I need to better establish a sense of control, allowing the artist to run wild then shutting him down, thus allowing the editor to approach the battlefield and clean up with no interference. It has always proven to be a difficult transition, though it may be possible by incorporating the best of both styles.

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One Comment on “Artist vs. Editor: The Battle of Outlining”

  1. Cathy Day says:

    This is wordy, Chase: Throughout the span of my creative writing experience, I’ve fallen under the impression that my writing style has reflected that of a pantser, a “no outline” person. Just say:I've always been a pantser. or I've been taking creative writing classes for x years and never, not once have I outlined.


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