I was cruising my various social media outlets recently when I came across a sentence which gave me pause: “Outlines are the refuge of a hack.”
Umm…I outline. Heck, I use Excel.
Now, to be fair, I don’t consider myself a towering literary figure. I’d like to think that my work may have some underlying themes and ideas, but crashing an 18th century sailing ship into Mars is unlikely to be considered super-deep. (“Dude, the ship is a metaphor for colonialism, right? And Mars is totally standing in for humanity’s history of war and self-destructiveness. So that whole thing is, like, you know, how the imposition of cultural paradigms are doomed to failure, right?”)
Actually, I really hope someone writes that about The Daedalus Incident someday, because that’s not what I was thinking when I wrote it. I was thinking something along the lines of: “This is SO cool.” But I digress.
I avoided the temptation to call out this statement about outliners being hacks and such, at least on the social media site in question. The person who posted that statement seemed to be a writer of the drink-heavily-and-exorcise-the-demons school, so, you know…discretion, valor, etc. However, the statement, cribbed from a Stephen King quote, stuck with me. Now, I don’t need to apologize for outlining. I’m going to be a published novelist in five months, so I figure it worked out all right.
No, what bothers me is this: What is it about writers and their loudly shared opinions about the processes of other writers? I think we writers can be downright pretentious when it comes to our craft, especially when it comes to judging process over the finished product. We are, in my own loudly shared opinion, far too precious and self-involved about not just what we do, but how we do it.
As far as I’m concerned, there’s no one “right” way to write a book, nor a proper method or motivation for writing. Why do you tell stories? There are as many reasons as there are stories. How do you go about it? When every word choice is a variable, trying to discern which method is better is monumentally full of itch-inducing hubris. This is art we’re talking about. Monet and Pollock had extremely different methods of painting — who am I to say which is more valid or, God forbid, more likely to reflect True Art (TM)? Sheesh.
I don’t take offense at the outliners-as-hacks thing because I outline. I take offense because you’re judging my methods without even reading my work. The work is the thing. If I produce something that people like, does it matter that I used an outline to get there? Your writing method may be the product of an immensely disciplined personal and spiritual journey. It could be a freestyle dredging of the darkest corners of your psyche, fed by anger at humanity’s failings and fueled by Jack Daniels and/or doughnuts.
Or it could simply be an exercise of skill and talent, methodically applied toward telling an entertaining story, with or without the use of an outline.
Whatever it is, who cares? If people read it, like it and get something out of it, the rest is pretty much just details.
But hey, what do I know? I’m just a hack. On the other hand, I didn’t outline this blog post. It probably shows, too, for good or ill.