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It might seem like a simple step. Simply open a new document and start typing, right? But it’s rare for this to work for me. I like to get a strong working title and an outline before I write too much. John’s written about this before, after he discovered he could speed up his writing process ~600 percent by producing an outline first.
As I wrote an outline for a post this week I realized I was repeating the same process for every single new post I work . Like any good programmer, I realized repeating the exact same work over and above means that is probably a good opportunity for automation.
So I decided to make a few templates for myself.
I began by developing a template for the most common Ghost blog post structure. Since that structure’s particular to me, I also created a template based on how John structures his articles, and another according to a writer whose work I respect.
For each template I’ve created a gist to show you exactly what they look like. They’re only Markdown documents, so go right ahead and save them, rename them if you like, and copy-and-paste the contents into a new file whenever you are ready to compose. Click the”view raw” link to the bottom of each gist to view the plain text version, which you may copy into a new file in your favorite writing program.
With this template, I can begin by answering each dot line with a couple of notes about what I need to write in that segment. By the time I’m done, I will have a rough sketch of what the final piece will look like. This should make it easier to enlarge my notes into fully-formed paragraphs and make them flow to each other well, because I know the arrangement of the entire piece beforehand.
Using the template, I found that my outlining process became more involved. I’d actually planned to do a complete rough draft of that post in the early hours, but it took me a couple of hours simply to get the outline done, so that I put off the draft for a different day.
On the other hand, I had over 1600 words composed in my outline, and a good idea of what each section would comprise and how they’d work together to create a feeling of flow from the post. Even though outlining took longer than usual, drafting took less time since I’d put myself up for victory. 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 had been quite a different process to the way I normally work, and that I had been tempted a few times to avoid the extra research or thinking required to fill out the outline properly. I often put these things off till I am drafting, and that’s when I should be focused on writing instead. I stuck to it, though, and by the time I got around to writing the draft I was glad I’d had.
I have really coined my outline and study process by applying this template. It’s a more effective part of the process now and makes drafting easier. Hopefully it will lead to better work, too.