Why you can’t get your outline into words

Sometimes despite penning an outline, the writer can’t seem to organize those points into complete sentences and turn it into a draft of a story.

Is this writer’s block? Probably not. After all, constructing an outline shows that the writer’s creative energy is high.

The problem likely rests with the depth of the outline itself. Take a look at the outline and ask:
• Is the action beat-by-beat? In the extreme, an outline is detailed enough that a writer can literally turn each beat into a complete sentence or two. Anything sketchier than that suggests the author hasn’t thought enough about the plotting, even if they haven’t written it on paper and are merely relying on the outline to jog their memory.
• Are the major characters developed? An outline should give the main character’s motivations and reasons for resolving an issue. Conflicts between characters and the reasons for them should be listed and explored. A story revolves around the characters, so ensuring this is in the outline is vital.
• Does too much offstage action appear in the outline? Rather than focus on the story, sometimes writers create outlines that instead provide lots of exposition and background information. While that is important for an author to know, it doesn’t translate well into an actual story.

If the outline does contain beat-by-beat action, developed characters, and plenty of onstage action, then perhaps the problem is the story itself. What was brainstormed for the outline simply may not be the story the writer wants to tell. In such cases, always feel free to deviate from the outline. After all, the outline is just a map, and there are many routes for reaching the story’s end.

Some writers fret over the imperfection of their first draft as they convert an outline into complete sentences. If so, let go! Don’t worry about the first draft being just right. Let it be full of incomplete sentences and typos. That’s why it’s a first rather than a final draft – because it needs to be revised.

Finally, an outline simply isn’t for every writer. Many prefer to free write as they find an outline restrictive and believe it hampers their creative process. If you’re having trouble converting an outline to a first draft, you may be one of those writers. In that case, set the outline aside and just try writing. You might be surprised by the results!


My name is Rob Bignell. I’m an affordable, professional editor who runs Inventing Reality Editing Service, which meets the manuscript needs of writers both new and published. I also offer a variety of self-publishing services. During the past decade, I’ve helped more than 300 novelists and nonfiction authors obtain their publishing dreams at reasonable prices. I’m also the author of the 7 Minutes a Day… writing guidebooks, four nonfiction hiking guidebook series, and the literary novel Windmill. Several of my short stories in the literary and science fiction genres also have been published.