I heart outlines

Remember those outlines from high school English, the ones everybody groaned about? If you still haven’t developed a grudging friendship with them, it’s time for a change of heart. Outlines are critical tools for maintaining the focus and flow that is so needed in writing of length. Whether it’s a journalistic article or a full-scale novel, outlines give structure and support, help you stay on track when your creative brain starts to get all wacky, and rein the brilliant chaos back in so your main point in the piece (furthering plot, character development, educating the masses about gun control…) stays clear.

Readers don’t like fuzzy. They appreciate creativity, sure, but it’s got to be taking you someplace. If you lead your readers into an unintentionally meandering maze, sooner or later they’ll get frustrated or bored.

And they’ll either put your piece down or they’ll miss your point entirely.

Now, an outline certainly doesn’t need to be the old-fashioned kind with Roman numerals and letters, points and sub-points, neatly indented down the page. Mine often look something like this, which I used for a recent article:

  • Big point: help readers understand the ministry is growing because those involved decided to trust the divine.
  • Start: A personal snapshot of a typical day
  • Quote encapsulating essence of ministry
  • Explain the ministry in full, including when, where, who, etc.
  • Why they took a leap of faith
  • It helps the community; include quote
  • It helps the volunteers; include quotes
  • Stats
  • Wrap up with personal view from leader

See—it’s plenty loose enough to satisfy the creative freedom I crave, but it keeps me on track so I don’t drown in the details or the beauty of what I’m writing.

Try it, just a simple one, and see how it can help.