Today I’m going to share an experience I had in grade three that affected my writing life. The way this teacher approached outlining a story isn’t how someone who wants to instill the love of learning should have taught outlining – especially to a group of grade three students. Take note – this is not the way to teach creative writing to early grade students or anyone for that matter.
When I was first learning about outlining short stories my teacher was set on saying that before starting you always need these three things:
This is common practice as it is important to teach the main structure of outlining a story. It is important to know that a story needs a beginning, middle, and end. When we would hand in any writing assignment she wanted the outline with it showing proof that we did plan out the beginning, middle, and end. That again, was fine, I understood that she wanted to see if we did the work but it was the next step she took that I had issues with.
She said that we couldn’t start stories without outlines, that no story was ever written without an outline. She continued to say that, “if you don’t have an outline your story will fail”, or “if you attempt to write a story without an outline you will be a failure”. This added a lot of undue stress on how I approached writing because I wasn’t the kind to write a story with a plan. I had ideas in my head and I wanted to write them down to see where they would go. There was no planning involved, but I didn’t want to be a failure, so I tried her way. That year I received a lot of unhappy faces on my assignments, which in turn reflected my own feelings about my schooling experience. I was not a planner when it came to outlining but I was forcing myself to conform to her way of outlining because I didn’t want to be a failure.
Teaching point number one: NEVER TELL A KID THEY WILL FAIL AT LIFE.
Better yet, don’t use the word fail or failure in the same sentence as that child’s name. There are better ways to motivate a student and calling them a failure isn’t one.
Teaching point number two: THERE IS NO ‘RIGHT WAY’ TO OUTLINING.
I’m older now and have been writing for thirteen years – professionally for three of those years. I can take a step back and realize that everything I learned was situational and bias. The way we write is as unique as the story we’re writing. For some stories we put in a lot of planning and for others we don’t. Most of the time writer’s work with their gut and drive. If that requires planning then we plan, if it doesn’t then we don’t. Everyone approaches outlining differently, and for me, writing stories in the outlining format my teacher was saying was ‘the right way’ was not the right way for me.
If I had been teaching I would have approached it differently. I would have had my student’s explore the different ways of outlining to find the one that fit them best. If my teacher had done that with me, I would have enjoyed writing a lot sooner and with a lot less stress. For those who don’t know, there are many different kinds of writers and some of the common approaches have been given names by people of the writing community. Some of these approaches are:
Planners are writers than need to know everything about their story they are creating, they are the one’s that need to know the beginning, middle, and end before they write it. They are the people who use post-its to breakdown the chapters/ scenes in their book. They are the one’s that have files on each character, what drives them, and how they will change. They are the one’s that have written the first chapter of their first book and no each step they are taking to get to the last chapter of the last book. This was how my teacher liked to outline.
They fly by the seat of their pants. They have an idea and start writing without any planning, unsure where the story will go but are excited about the adventures to come. They are the one’s that have several ideas going at once and at times hit walls more often due to not knowing where the story goes. These are the writer’s that are writing as the reader, experiencing the character’s as if seeing them through a screen. When I started writing I was this kind of
writer. I never knew where I was going with a story but I knew that eventually it would end and I would know how when the time was right.
This is the name I give them, but these are the writers that aren’t planners but aren’t pantsers. They have an idea of how the story will go and do a little planning for their story but have no clear idea of the middle. They have files on characters but just images to get inspired by. When it comes to world building they let their world build itself through writing the story, and when editing will go back through to add more detail of ideas they came up with will washing the dishes that sounded cool. This is where I currently sit as a writer. I don’t plan in full detail but I have a general idea of where things are going to end up.
Even though I had serious stress issues with writing in my early years, I’m glad to have learned about that method of writing.
I’m glad to have had that experience where my teacher said that no one who doesn’t write like that is going to be a failure when it comes to writing, because she taught me that that was the wrong way to teach writing. It would be five years later, in grade eight, where I would say screw it and started writing the way I naturally wrote – without knowing where the hell my ideas were going to take me. It was like night and day with how my feelings about writing changed. Over night I changed from being a kid that would hate any writing assignment that came her way to requesting writing assignments for major projects. I would stay up late under my covers with the flashlight writing my stories because I couldn’t stop myself. My hatred turn to obsession and it was because I stopped fighting against my natural writing instincts.
So, in conclusion, there isn’t a right way or wrong way to outline a story, there is only the way that works for you.