I have a lot of ambivalence towards outlines. I get optimistic. I always think that having an outline will be a great idea, will make me so much more efficient, help organize me, keep me on track, etc. However, most of the time, I don’t think in terms of plot; in my mind, stories are always defined by their characters. Sadly, this means that I don’t know where the story’s going until someone does something. Which means that I have to write a first draft before I ever get around to the outlining stage.
Once I have first draft, I write an outline based on that (which I think is kind of like outline-cheating). By writing down what’s already happened, the story starts to look like a blue print. I can see which parts of the house are kind of lopsided, and locate the most logical place to put the sink. I look for balance and significance. Once I have a floor plan, it’s easier to see the rooms that need the most work.
After my first draft, an outline becomes a wonderful, useful thing, but it’s more like a diagnostics tool than a guide. It shows me what doesn’t fit, and what needs to be stronger. But I’ll be the first to admit, I don’t think I’m using it in the prescribed manner.