In their book Rework, Basecamp co-founders Jason Fried and David Heinemeier Hansson write about the pointlessness of having a long-term business plan. “There are just too many factors that are out of your hands,” they say. “Writing a plan makes you feel in control of things you can’t actually control.”
I think of outlines—especially detailed outlines—as business plans for your book. The trouble is that you write them before you start writing the book, when you have the least information about how the writing will actually go and what new discoveries you will make along the way. A lot of authors write in order to learn what they know; sticking to an outline can shut you off from realizing what you’re actually trying to say, or prevent you from the necessity of changing your mind.
Think of your outline as a rough guess for where your writing will take you, but be willing to throw it out or revise it partway through the writing process. Make your outline fit the reality: how your book is going, where it’s going, and your current questions and pain-points. Surrender to a state of not-knowing and not being in control. As Rework says, “Working without a plan may seem scary. But blindly following a plan that has no relationship with reality is even scarier.”