To be honest, I hated writing outlines for school. They never really taught how to – either that, or I wasn’t paying much attention when they did. All of a sudden, they wanted us to make them. Since I didn’t know how, I typically wrote the essay first, in secret, and when I was satisfied with it, I wrote an outline based on it. Most of my English teachers fell for it, and had mostly good things to say about the final (rather, initial) product. 😛
Likewise, with my book projects, I used to write blindly, making things up as I went along. That worked pretty well, but because I didn’t outline or keep notes, I got stuck a lot. To go forward, a lot of plot changes would need to be made, but then I’d be scrapping thousands of words that took me ages to write. What worked with my essays was starting to fail with my “books”. After all, revising an essay that’s a few thousand words, at most, is no big deal in comparison to revising 15k words.
Eventually, I had to figure out how to outline the hard way. And boy, am I glad I did!
Before I make a formal, outline-y, bulleted list, I start out with a “story treatment,” like they do in showbiz. Basically, I write out a summary of how I want the plot to be.
Outlining the entire story, concisely, chapter by chapter, plot point by plot point, helps me to map everything out in an incredibly flexible way. By keeping everything on the outline level, I can simply arrange, rearrange, modify, and delete items on a bulleted list.
I’ll often go back and look at my “story treatment,” to remind myself of everything that needs to happen at a given point for the story to go forward. Yes, I still have some “uh, what happens next?” moments, but I’m not getting as frustrated. There’s still plenty of time and space for making improvements.