Outlining: Setting the Bones
Outlining is a curious thing. It can feel like a speed bump; you have your idea, you’re excited about it, and you’ve put in time learning and researching your topic. You’re probably excited to get started and get your hands dirty. However, before you get started, you will need to outline your project. It takes time. It’s not a fun part of the creating process. It’s tedious. It’s also very necessary.
This picture embodies my style of organization
Creating an outline is setting the bones so you can build off them. I’ve had many good ideas become convoluted and ineffective due to poor outlining. Projects were stalled, and stress levels rose. All (err, most) of those issues could have been prevented if I’d created an outline. Not only does the outline help organize your ideas, but it also feels good. It’s small progress that gives you the same satisfaction of crossing things off your list. As each idea finds its home on the outline, you begin to feel more confident with your idea. For those of you reading this who organize their books methodically, the idea of outlining shouldn't be too novel (pun intended).
An outline is essential when first starting a project, but that doesn’t mean it’s only used prior to getting started. A good outline is a fluid thing that grows, changes, and adapts as your project does over time. My outline is my ‘source of truth’ when writing. As new ideas come to me, I reference the outline and find a home for them in a place that makes sense. Without an outline, it’d be like trying to add branches to a tree without a trunk. You have no base or direction.
Enough of my preaching. You’re probably wondering how the hell to even start an outline. The short answer is you’ll have to find what works for you as what works for me may not be the best fit for you. You’ll have to experiment. For me, I usually start by word-vomiting all my ideas onto a Google Doc. I use bullet points to separate my ideas and thoughts. As I do more research, that list of ideas begins to grow. As it grows, I start to notice different themes and connections between ideas. Those connections form the basis for my sections or chapters. Any exercises, quotes, or references are put in their own sections, separate from the other ideas. Over time, they naturally gravitate toward different sections of the book. If you couldn’t tell, there is a lot of copying and pasting within the document. It’s sort of like a puzzle that needs to be put together after you’ve dumped all the pieces out on the ground.
Here is an example of a small snippet of my Ugly Creativity outline:
See your mistakes as mistakes
A “happy accident?” Sometimes.
Know that mistakes aren’t failure
Is this too general?? Probably.
“Perfect” is a term you define
Here is a screenshot of my UC outline in all it's messy glory:
With Ugly Creativity, my outline is even messier than it was for Lazy Creativity, but that works for me. Your outline might need to be even more organized. What I would encourage you to do is to continue adding to and adjusting your outline as you write. It’ll help you in the long-run. Nothing is more intimidating than having to sort through hundreds of pages and come up with a plan once everything is already written. Put in the extra time to get organized throughout the process. It’ll save you some heartburn. It'll also give your story or message cohesion that may otherwise be lost. The message you're trying to say deserves to be said in the way it was meant to. Don't let messy organization get in the way.
Up Next: Getting started