The One Cool Thing You Can Do That Will Make Writing MUCH Easier…
Do you do any kind of sport? Do you warm up before you dive in? I bloody hope you do, or you’ll get injured.
Writing an outline is like a warm-up session for your writing. It’s critical.
Whenever I look at a sales page, or an article, or an email — or read a book — I can always tell whether or not the writer has taken the time to write an outline… or if they’ve just dived in and started pouring words out of their eyeballs onto the page.
If what I’m reading is chaotic, psychotic, or just plain confused I can pretty much bet my favourite pair of shoes the writer hasn’t created an outline.
I read confusing copy all over the internet, in magazines, on blogs, and on websites. And I see confused copy arrive in my critique box all the time.
Sometimes the writing starts out pretty well, then stops for a cider and wanders off track.
Other pieces of writing stumble right at the start, and never really get going.
Be honest: does that sound like what happens when you try to write? There’s no shame in it, because if you’re not a writer by trade, I’m betting you don’t particularly enjoy writing… right?
How To Enjoy Writing
Well, I’m going to help you change all that. I shall explain why writing an outline is so important, and give you a very simple structure you can follow.
By the time you’ve finished reading this article, you’ll be able to quickly and easily put together an outline for pretty much anything (including articles, sales pages, emails, podcasts, videos, and fiction stories). You’ll cut your writing time and stress dramatically. And you’ll enjoy your writing more.
But let’s start at the beginning, because I bet you’re thinking something like…
“But outlines are boring and I don’t have time!”
Outlines Are Awesome
Outlines aren’t boring — honest. And you do have time. In fact, writing will take you less time if you take the time to make an outline before you start.
Perhaps I have to persuade you, and that’s okay. So here’s why I write outlines, and why you should be writing them, too.
Have you ever heard of “writer’s block”? Of course you have. I used to think I suffered from it all the time, but now I think writer’s block is a myth.
It’s an excuse the confused or lazy use to avoid getting started. Because when you’ve got outlines in your writing toolbox, there are no excuses.
We struggle when we’re tired, too — but that’s another thing an outline will help you overcome. You’ll be able to write a splendid book chapter or article or email or whatever even if you’re tired. An outline will take away the temptation to have a rest.
Because when you stop for a rest, you put a wall up between you and your task. Your writing task gets bigger and bigger and more and more scary and hairy… when in reality all you need to do is write the outline.
All You Have To Write Is The Outline
You don’t have to worry about banging out the perfect chapter or article or sales page — just get your ideas down on paper, which is not hard, is it? Once you’ve done that, once you’ve outlined in the way I’ll show you, you’ll find you can create your outline easily — then you start motoring along nicely.
Outlines help to make your Shitty First Draft slightly less shitty. When you write outlines, you won’t eliminate Shitty First Drafts entirely, and you shouldn’t try because SFDs are wonderful, but your writing will be more coherent because an outline is your warm-up session.
Just as I’d never, ever go into a trapeze training session cold, I never go into a writing session cold, either. You have to warm those muscles up first, so you can hit the ground running.
(Or, in my case, not hit the ground at all.)
Creating an outline will speed up your writing. Instead of casting around for ideas, stopping and starting, and generally wailing and gnashing your teeth about how difficult it all is, an outline will set out everything you need to do, nice and neat. Just follow that outline, and fill in the gaps. Sounds too simple and too good to be true? It’s not. There’s a little more to it, but I’ll show you how to do it later.
And finally, writing outlines prevents you from missing out important information — and, just as importantly, helps you cut out the needless waffle and fluff.
Your outline gives you a clear recipe to follow, so you can’t go too far wrong.
Reduce, Reuse, Recycle
Oh, and just one more thing — a little bonus I’ve found comes from creating outlines — they also give you lots of ideas for future articles, products, and sales messages.
You end up cutting irrelevant bits out of your outline, but what happens to those bits? Do you throw them away? No! Instead, save them as ideas for future articles, emails, blogs, or whatever. Everything is reusable.
One Big Idea
Start your outline with One Big Idea. The most common problem I see is when someone tries to get all the thoughts out of their head and throw them into someone else’s head by writing them all down.
What happens? A confused mess nobody reads.
So start with the one big idea. For this article, my One Big Idea was: Why write outlines?
Then, I asked a series of questions based on questions journalists ask: the 5 Ws.
The 5 Ws
Journalists ask: Who, What, Why, Where, and How — which forms the basis of their articles.
I don’t always use that format, but it’s a good place to start. For this article, I could have asked:
- Who needs to know this stuff?
- What am I teaching here?
- Why do we write outlines?
- Where do I start?
- How do I decide what to include in an outline?
Or, if you can’t make those questions fit into whatever it is you’re writing, try this instead:
- What’s your offer? (What are you selling?)
- Why should I care? (What are the benefits?)
- How can I buy it? (Call to action)
Or, if you’re writing a book, try these questions:
- What’s my big idea?
- What are the main points I need to cover?
- Why will knowing those main points benefit my reader?
- What do I want my reader to know, understand, be, and do after they’ve read my book?
- What story illustrates my main points?
So, there we have it. A very simple process to create an outline using one big idea, and 5 W’s. Don’t skip the outlining step — your writing will be much better and you’ll sell more if you spend a little time at the start planning.