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It may seem like a simple step. Just open a new file and start typing, right? Nonetheless, it’s rare for that to work for me. I like to get a strong working name and a summary before I write too much. John’s written about this before, after he found he could accelerate his composing procedure ~600% by producing an outline first.
As I wrote an outline for a post this week I realized I was repeating the same procedure for every new post I work . Like any fantastic programmer, I realised repeating the exact same work over and over means that’s probably a good opportunity for automation.
So I decided to make some templates for myself.
I started by developing a template for the common Ghost blog article arrangement. Since that structure’s particular to me, I created a template based on how John structures his articles, and another based on a writer whose work I respect.
For every template I’ve made a gist to show you what they look like. They are only Markdown files, so go ahead and save them, rename them if you like, and copy-and-paste the contents into a new file whenever you are ready to write. Click on the”view raw” link to the bottom of every list to view the plain text version, which you may copy to a new file on your favourite writing app.
With this template, I can start by answering each dot line using a few notes about what I need to write in that segment. From the time I am done, I’ll have a rough sketch of what the finished piece will look like. This should make it simpler to expand my notes to fully-formed paragraphs and cause them to flow to each other nicely, because I know the arrangement of the whole piece beforehand.
Using the template, I discovered that my outlining process became much more involved. I had actually planned to do a complete rough draft of the post in the early hours, but it took me a couple of hours just to have the outline done, so I put the draft off for another day.
On the other hand, I had over 1600 words composed in my outline, along with a good idea of what each segment would comprise and how they would work together to create a feeling of flow in the article. Even though outlining took longer than normal, drafting took less time because I had put myself up for success. Composing the draft was just a matter of taking each chunk of notes out of the outline and filling it out into a readable paragraph or two.
It was quite a different process to how I normally work, and that I had been tempted a couple of times to avoid the additional research or thinking necessary to complete the outline properly. I often put off these things till I’m drafting, and that’s when I must be centered on writing instead. I stuck to it, however, and by the time I got around to writing the draft I was grateful I’d had.
I have actually coined my outline and research procedure by applying this template. It’s a more effective part of my process now, and makes drafting easier. Hopefully it’ll lead to better work, too.