The Ins and Outs of Outlining

“First, write an outline.”

picture of book with outline numbers

Some people love outlines.  They find it helps organize their thoughts and guides their research and writing in a way that saves time and effort.  It prevents them from going down tangents that are unnecessary for the assignment.  The outline also breaks a large project down into small and achievable tasks. This method becomes the virtual trail down the mountain, preventing them from getting lost in the wilderness of ideas.

However, for other people outlines are the bane of writing. They dutifully try to write rows of ideas prefaced by little Roman letters and numbers with periods after them.  The dry process often only results in a paper that almost feels formulaic and forced. They prefer to write organically and just see where the writing goes.

For those doing creative writing, the thought of using an outline seems almost unheard of– that is something reserved for essays and research projects.  Outlining almost seems like putting a beautiful wild horse into a corral; making sad limitations on something that should run free.

Yet, outlines can be powerful tools in ALL types of writing.  It helps us step back and evaluate the content and pace of our message.  We can use them to judge our structure and check for gaps in our logic or narration.

Author and instructor, Aaron Hamburger writes in the New York Times about his method of reverse outlining when he is writing creatively.  He lets the story grow organically for the first draft and THEN writes an outline based on what he has already written.  This allows him to evaluate the pace and completeness of the story.

If you want to improve your writing and take it up to the next level, try outlining. At any step of the writing process an outline can help bring clarity and objectivity to what your writing conveys to others.

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