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How to write an outline

To outline or not to outline, that’s the question. When I write, I always start the process with thoughts about how to write and organize my story. That’s the first thing I do when I’m writing a novel, when I’m blogging, and when I’m writing articles. No matter what. That’s how I start.

By the way, I always write using distraction free writing software.

What is an outline?

The first thing I do, no matter what I am going to be writing, is to find out what I am going to write about (the topic, and the question I’m going to answer). Then, I add everything I can possibly think of (in a certain amount of time), then I do research, and I add the research. It’s in fact all my notes.

The problem

The problem with creating an outline is how to organize it. You don’t want to have hundreds of post-it notes on the table, without any system to help you understand what you’ve got. You want to be able to get a good overview of everything, and you want it to be easy to rearrange. For instance, you want the overview and to be able to move chapter 10, to chapter 2, without hardly any effort at all. Or if you’re writing a blog post, you want to be able to move around the different parts of the post (if necessary).

How to begin creating the outline

I always begin with brainstorming. I don’t do any research at all in the beginning. First, I sit down and start writing down everything I know about the topic. I do it for about five minutes. Then, I start the research. I search google for similar blog posts, and I use wikipedia to get some facts.

I add everything to Taskpaper. A software to create to-do lists. But to me, it’s perfect for organizing both my novel and all my blog posts.

The outlining methods

There are at least three methods you can use. I’m using the classic method, and I do it in the following steps:

Every chapter of my novel (and every part of my blog posts) consists of one main idea, information that supports the main idea, and the details. Simple and straightforward. When I use this method, it’s easy to get an overview of every chapter. I use different fonts, different colors and bullet points in order to separate the three different steps.

The tools

I’m using Taskpaper, and I am very satisfied. You can use a pen and paper, or you can use other types of software, like:

By the way, I am using Evernote for everything when it comes to notes and things I need to remember, but not when it comes to creating my outline.

It’s no right or wrong

What I am doing works for me. What you need to remember is that there are no right way to write an outline. You can use the classic approach, or you can do it any other way. What works for me might not work for you.

There are only two things you need to write an outline that will be really helpful:

Are you creating outlines?

I’m very interested in what you do and how you write. Do you ever think about how to write an outline? If you are, how are you writing it?



8 responses to “How to write an outline”

  1. Ric Nunez says:

    Sometimes I use xmind for mind mapping and I use evernote to take all the notes. Then is just a matter of putting everything together in windows live writer. I do this for a while and then I finish the posts when I have some free time.

    • I have also tested xmind, but ended up with Mindnode Pro. But at the moment, I’m not using mind mapping at all. I’m back and forth with mind mapping. It’s an awesome method, but I’m not sure if it’s my kind of method… but I’ll probably be using it in a month or two. That’s how I’ve done it for the past 10 years 🙂

  2. Gil Pizano says:

    These are very good points. I find myself not thinking about an outline when I write a post to my blog. Whenever I write an article or post, I just start typing and let my thoughts come out. It’s what I find works for me. I’m probably one of the few who doesn’t use an outline (even at a high level) to write a post.

    How often to do use an outline format first prior to writing an article? Do you use this method everytime?

    • I don’t use an outline format all the time, but most of the time. It’s not that I spend much time on the outline, but I use TaskPaper to add headlines and keywords, and then I start writing. Sometimes it takes me 5 minutes or even less to do the outline, and then I spend fifteen minutes writing the blog post and I’m done 🙂

  3. Laura says:

    Great point, was always wondering how professionals do it, as I am clearly a free spirit and my head is buzzing with thoughts all the time I am writing, these are great tools, will get them to work tonight!

  4. Joseph Hipolito says:

    Love this post. this is really helpful to me because I have no idea how to write an outline, I’m glad you post this Jens..

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