I made dinner tonight–gluten-free pan-fried chicken nuggets with mustardy-sweet sauce–and as I was pushing little nuggets around in the pan, a thought came to me: writing is like cooking.
When most folks cook, they use a recipe–new cooks especially. It’s something to follow, something to guide, something to give just the right amounts of every ingredient to make the dish taste the same every time. It’s safe and yields good results, unless the cook forgets to add ingredients or messes up some portion of the recipe.
But once a cook is comfortable with the recipes, sometimes he moves on to free-hand. A pinch of this, a pinch of that, and a little salt to season. It may take him several tries to get it right, but once he figures it out he can get the dish right every time, same as a recipe. Sometimes he finds that this method isn’t his preferred way of cooking, and not everyone can cook this way.
Still, beginners to cooking use a recipe because it helps them learn the right way to cook before they start on their own. That’s what recipes are–guides. Some cooks never move beyond recipes because they either comfortable with recipes or have tried cooking without one and found it difficult or unappealing… So they stick with the recipe, and it works for them.
It’s the same way with writers. Beginning writers start with outlines, because outlines help guide their novels into a finished product (or at least a finished first draft). Some continue to use outlines throughout their entire writing career because it works for them, and they like to have guidelines at their side. Others branch into pantsing and guesstimating a novel from beginning to end… And they find it works!
Pantsing–like cooking without a recipe–isn’t for everyone, but there are folks out there who find it conducive to writing a better novel. I’m on the fence in this area… I love the adventure that pantsing gives me, but I’m not thrilled with the revising and editing that’s needed at the end. (Incidentally, I’m a whizz at cooking soup without a recipe!)
So it’s up to you, as the writer, to determine what is best for you. Do you need the structure of an outline to guide your writing, or do you enjoy whizzing off on an adventure with no map and a machete to blaze the way?
Two questions: do you outline or not, and do you cook with or without a recipe?