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It may look like a simple step. Simply open a new document and begin typing, right? But it’s rare for this to work for me. I love to have a solid working title and a summary before I write too much. John’s written about this earlier, after he discovered he could speed up his writing process ~600 percent by creating an outline first.
As I wrote an outline for a post this week I realized I had been repeating the same procedure for every new post I work on. Like any fantastic programmer, I realised repeating the same work over and above means that’s probably a fantastic chance for automation.
So I decided to make some templates for myself.
I started by creating a template for the common Ghost blog article arrangement. Since that arrangement’s particular to me, I also created a template based on how John structures his posts, and another based on a writer whose work I admire.
For each template I’ve created a gist to show you exactly what they look like. They are just Markdown files, so go right ahead and save them, rename them if you prefer, and copy-and-paste the contents into a new file whenever you’re ready to write. Click the”view raw” link to the bottom of each list to observe the plain text version, which you may copy into a new file in your favorite writing app.
With this template, I can begin by answering each dot line with a couple of notes about what I should write in that segment. By the time I am done, I will have a rough sketch of what the final piece will look like. This should make it easier to expand my notes to fully-formed paragraphs and cause them to flow to each other nicely, because I understand the structure of the entire piece beforehand.
Using the template, I found that my summarizing procedure became much more involved. I had really planned to do a full rough draft of the post in the early hours, but it took me a few hours simply to get the outline done, so I put off the draft for another day.
On the flip side, I had over 1600 words written in my outline, along with a solid idea about what each segment would contain and how they’d work together to create a feeling of flow from the post. Even though outlining took more than normal, drafting took time since I’d set myself up for success. Writing 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 had been quite a different process to how I normally do the job, and I had been tempted a couple of times to avoid the extra research or thinking necessary to complete the outline properly. I frequently put these things off till I am drafting, and that’s when I must be centered on writing rather. I adhered to it, though, and from the time I got around to writing the draft I was glad I had.
I’ve actually overhauled my outline and study process by applying this template. It is a more productive part of my process now and makes drafting easier. Hopefully it’ll lead to better work, also.