So here I was, at a monastery in Nepal, sitting on a meditation cushion, … eyes shut tightly, trying to be aware of my breath. In breath, out breath. In breath, out breath. Hmmm… sandwich and pizza… with coke… ok sorry sorry… in breath, out breath, in breath, out breath… ah that girl is so darn cute… in breath, out breath… argh… my right knee hurts!
Clearly, I needed help. My mind was as distracted as a donkey in a field of carrots. I was trying to bring my back mind back, but despite my best efforts, it kept going astray.
A similar thing happens when we sit down to write. While we want to produce coherent, crisp content that deeply resonates with the reader, our mind goes in a million different directions. We decide to create a sharp spear but end up creating a gooey shapeless blob. The reader is confused.
The question then is – How do we get coherence? How do we write clearly without getting lost in the clutter of our minds?
We get it through a process called outlining. Outlining makes our articles crisp and sharp. They inspire the reader instead of confusing him.
In this article, we will cover –
- What is outlining, and why do we need it
- Identify the core idea
- A simple formula for outlining
Let’s get cracking, shall we?
- What is outlining, and why do we need it?
Most of us start our writing process with… well… writing. And while that has its own merits, directly putting your thoughts onto the paper might not be the best strategy.
Weak structure leads to weak writing. If our thoughts and ideas are arranged incoherently, the reader can never quite comprehend what we are trying to say. We are looking to transform the reader, but with a weak structure, it doesn’t quite take place.
Outlining brings structure to our writing
Outlining brings constraints. It builds a guardrail that protects our writing from wandering off. With outlining, we can arrange our ideas in a much better way. While it’s tempting to jump into writing, outlining builds a rock-solid foundation, saves us time and, most importantly, protects us from a lot of frustration.
But the next question would be – How exactly do you create this outline?
- Identifying the core
Before we jump into outlining, though, we need to simplify our idea. Yes, our ideas are sophisticated and complex… stuff that only Einstein can understand. But if we can’t do the hard work of finding the core of our ideas, conveying them to our audience will be a pain in the butt.
The core of the idea is simple
But, not easy. The core is the one thing you want to convey to your audience. The one singular transformation that you want to create. The one message you want your audience or reader to take away from your content. not 73… not 2… just 1!
Hint: The core message of this article is – “Outlining keeps your writing on track and empowers your content.”
And after we have discovered this golden nugget, we move to the next step. Time to shine it… baby!
- A simple formula for outlining
Here’s a simple formula I use to write long articles. This can also be used in narrative-style podcasts and youtube videos.
- Set-up (This could be a short story)
- Explaining why you are exploring the topic
- Point number 1 (With an example)
- Point number 2 (With an example)
- Point number 3 (With an example)
- Objection 1
- Objection 2
- Sandwich moment (Complete the story that you started in the set-up)
The 3 points I mentioned (1,2, and 3) can have examples, although that is not mandatory.
Let’s see how this formula applies to this particular article
- Set-up – The story about me meditating
- Explaining the why – The part where I talk about how writing is messy, and you need a structure
- Point number 1 – What is Outlining, and why do we need it?
- Point number 2 – Identifying the core
- Point number 3 – A simple formula for outlining (You are reading this section currently)
- Objection 1 – Yet to be covered, but you will see it below. Hint – Objection on choosing the 3 points.
- Objection 2 – Yet to be covered (Wouldn’t the article be boring)
- Sandwich moment – I have to close the loop I opened with the story on meditation. I have no clue how I am going to do that. Let’s find out
No need to take this formula as it is. Play around with it. This works for me, but something else might work for you.
But what if I make a mistake in choosing my 3 points
Your choice has to be perfect. It doesn’t. There is no formula, no strict rule about choosing the 3 points. This is where you need to act as a Director of the movie, make a call and then trust it. Choosing is a skill that gets better with time.
Outlining would make your article boring
It won’t. This might seem a little too formulaic right now, but after producing many articles, I can say that this formula works every single time without making your article boring.
If we start our article with writing, it can go all over the place. Outlining ensures that we get a solid structure to our writing. Before we get into outlining, we need to find the core of the idea. There is a simple formula that you can use for outlining – Set-up, why you are exploring the topic, Point number 1, Point number 2, Point number 3, Objection 1, Objection 2, Sandwich moment, Summary.
Speaking of sandwiches…
As I went to the meditation teacher to express my concern, her old, kind, stern eyes looked at me and said, “You are trying too hard. You don’t need to control your mind. You just need to observe it.”