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It might look like an easy step. Just open a new document and start typing, right? Nonetheless, it’s rare for that to work for me. I like to get a solid working name and a summary before I write too much. John’s written about this before, after he found he could accelerate his writing process ~600 percent by producing an outline first.
As I wrote an outline for a post this week I realised I was repeating the exact same procedure for every single new post I work on. Like any good programmer, I realized repeating the same work over and over means that is probably a good chance for automation.
So I decided to create some templates for myself.
I began by developing a template for the common Ghost blog article structure. Since that structure’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 respect.
For each template I’ve created a gist to show you what they look like. They are only Markdown documents, so go ahead and save them, rename them if you prefer, and copy-and-paste the contents into a new file whenever you’re ready to compose. Click the”view raw” link to the bottom of each list to observe the plain text version, which you can copy into a new file in your favourite writing program.
With this template, I can begin by answering each dot line using a couple of notes about what I need to write in that section. From the time I’m done, I’ll have a rough sketch of what the finished piece will look like. This should make it easier to expand my notes into fully-formed paragraphs and cause them to flow into each other nicely, because I know the arrangement of the entire piece in advance.
Using the template, I discovered that my summarizing procedure became more involved. I’d actually planned to perform a full rough draft of the post in the morning, but it took me a couple of hours just to have 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, and a good idea of what each segment would contain and how they’d work together to create a sense of flow in the article. Even though outlining took longer than normal, drafting took less time since I’d put myself up for victory. Writing the draft was only a matter of taking each chunk of notes from the outline and filling out it into a readable paragraph or 2.
It had been quite a different process to how I normally do the job, and that I had been tempted a couple of times to avoid the extra research or thinking necessary to fill out the outline correctly. I frequently put off these things until I’m drafting, which is when I must be focused on writing rather. I adhered 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 study procedure by using this template. It is a more productive part of my process now, and makes drafting easier. Hopefully it’ll lead to better work, too.