How To Outline Your Writing: 3 Easy Tricks You Need Today

Wish you knew how to outline your writing?

Whenever I use the word “outline” to my students, I know a couple of people in the group will sigh and look as if they wish they were somewhere else. Anywhere else.

To eliminate the panic, I suggest to my students that they substitute the word “map” for “outline.”

A map:

  • Orients you: it shows you where you are;
  • Reveals routes to your destination;
  • Is a visual guide. With a map, you can take in a lot of information at a glance.

Mind maps are a wonderful tool to help you to outline/ map your projects.

If you hate outlining; start by creating intuitive mind maps.

How to outline your writing: start with intuitive mind maps

You know much more than you think you do. I discovered intuitive mind mapping via Gabriele Rico’s wonderful book, Writing the Natural Way. Dr. Rico pioneered intuitive writing via clustering.

Clustering primes the pump of your writing.

A BIG TIP: kick your rational mind out of the way when you’re creating an intuitive mind map. Write your topic in the center of a sheet of paper, then cluster words or phrases around that central topic… without thinking about it.

Intuitive maps help you to create “mud”: the raw materials of your writing.

1. Make your “mud” first

Before you can begin an outline, you need some mud.

A little about mud from the Top 70 Writing Tips: Write More, Improve Your Writing, And Make More Money:

Look on all the writing you do as “making mud”. Be exuberant and messy.

You can do a lot with your mud. Just as you can build entire houses with mud bricks, you can write articles, novels, nonfiction books, short stories, essays, memoirs – in short, you can write anything and everything, if you make the basic building material, the “mud” first.

I like to start creating mud with the answers to some questions.

Tip: when you’re stuck in your writing, or unsure, ask questions.

2. Outline with questions: mind map the answers

Think of “outline” as a verb, rather than a noun. It’s an activity. Mind maps work as outlines for me, and for many of my students. You may prefer to create lists. Follow your natural inclination.

Most projects start with the 5 Ws plus an H: who, what, why, when, where and how.

To map your 5 Ws and an H, put your topic in the center of your map, then add the 5 Ws and an H as sub-topics, radiating outward in a circle. Then brainstorm each W, and the H. Try it. It’s easy and intuitive.

“How much outlining do I need? When do I start writing?”

This is a common concern of new writers, but outlining isn’t a discrete activity; it’s ongoing. You do both. You can outline at any stage of a writing project; it prevents procrastination.

Start writing at any time. Remember, it’s all mud: raw material. No writing you do is wasted; it’s discovery.

When writing fiction, I map each scene. With nonfiction, I map as I go too, chunking chapters down into sections and mapping each section.

3. If you prefer to pants your fiction…

Some authors never outline their fiction. They prefer to pants their novels. (Pants: write novels by the seat of your pants, with minimal outlining.)

I prefer to pants, but I still outline. I do it after I’ve written.

As soon as I’ve completed a chapter, I enter the scenes onto a mind map so that I can see which characters were present in a scene, where each scene was located, and what goals each character had for each scene.

Before I start work on my novel each day, I look at the previous chapter’s mind map. This always inspires me, and makes my writing flow.


 

Are you a self-publishing author? Develop your strategy for fiction

It’s easier than it’s ever been to make a great living writing fiction. If you choose, you can quit your day job knowing you have millions of fans waiting to buy your writing.

But… Why is it so HARD for most authors?

If you want to sell books, you need a self-publishing strategy for fiction.


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Updated: May 23, 2021