Before You Write, Make a Plan

You wouldn’t build a house without a blueprint, would you? OK, I probably don’t have many architects among my readers, but if you did build houses, you’d want a blueprint, right?

Or to change up metaphors, you wouldn’t drive from New York to California with only a general sense of which direction west was? No, you’d want a map. Otherwise, you’d be confused about which roads to take, and you’d most certainly get lost along the way. Backtracking and indecision paralysis would make the trip take much longer, and you can add in a dose of frustration for more unpleasantness.

Any task with many options would benefit from some sort of road map, so to speak. That’s why it’s essential to create an outline or some sort of organization scheme before writing just about anything.

My last blog post on the writing process was about freewriting and gathering ideas. That's Step 1. Organizing those ideas is Step 2. If you skip this stage and go straight into drafting, it will be like you’re driving somewhere new without a map. The good thing about writing is you can make your own map.

How to Organize Your Writing

As discussed in my early post, freewriting is a tool for when you can’t come up with good ideas for whatever it is you need to write. It’s useful for unearthing buried ideas or shaping unformed ones, but freewriting isn’t necessary to do when your mind is already brimming with things you want to say on the topic at hand.

Nevertheless, you should still take the time to get those ideas out of your head and on to paper or a word-processing document before trying to craft them into sentences and paragraphs.

How to do it:

1.      Pick your tool – While I like pen and paper for freewriting, organizing on a computer is easier because the process involves a lot of shuffling things around. There are lots of tools to choose from:

  • Microsoft Word – Use Word’s “multi-level list,” which is not the same as Outline view.
  • Google Docs – Docs has indented bullets with different shapes , but it doesn’t number them like Word.
  • Workflowy – Also, non-numbered bullets, but this cool app is quite versatile and allows you to collapse nodes, take notes, and use hashtags. It’s especially good for long outlines.
  • Evernote, OneNote, etc. – Just about any app or program for making lists and taking notes has some sort of way to make bulleted items. As long as you can promote or demote items, you're fine.

2.      Write out your ideas – One idea per line works best.

3.      Organize them – Move your ideas up and down, indent them as needed, and create headings. You can wait until you have all your ideas out of your head or do it as you go. Whatever works for you. 

Excepting something super short like a tweet or a tagline, just about anything you write should be outlined.  It may seem like a time-consuming step, but it really makes things much easier.

Because sometimes in writing, you don’t know what to say. Other times, you do know what to say, but you don’t know how to structure your ideas. Make yourself a blueprint first, and you’ll know how to start building.