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It might seem to be an easy step. Simply open a new file and start typing, right? But it’s rare for that to work for me. I love to have a solid 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% by producing 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 . Like any fantastic 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 started by developing a template for the most common Ghost blog post arrangement. Since that arrangement’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 every template I’ve made a gist to show you exactly what they look like. They’re just Markdown files, so go ahead and save them, rename them if you prefer, 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 each list to observe the plain text version, which you can copy into a new file in your favorite writing program.
With this template, I can begin by answering each dot point with a few notes about what I need to write in that section. By the time I am done, I will 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 into each other nicely, since I understand the structure of the whole piece in advance.
Using the template, I discovered that my summarizing procedure became much more involved. I’d really planned to do a complete rough draft of that post in the morning, but it took me a few hours just to have the outline done, so I set the draft off for another day.
On the flip side, I’d over 1600 words written in my outline, and a solid idea about what each segment would contain and how they would work together to create a feeling of flow in the article. Even though outlining took more than usual, drafting took less time because I’d set 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 two.
It had been quite a different procedure to how I normally do the job, and that I had been tempted a few times to avoid the extra research or thinking required to fill out the outline properly. I frequently put these things off till I am drafting, which is when I should be focused on writing instead. I stuck to it, however, and from the time I got around to writing the draft I was grateful I’d had.
I’ve really overhauled my outline and research process by applying this template. It’s a more effective part of the procedure now, and makes drafting easier. Hopefully it will lead to better work, too.