I came to freelance writing from a background of writing fiction. I found that from the very beginning I preferred to be a “plotter” rather than “pantser”. I work much faster and with more confidence when I know before I start how the story is going to work out.
When I started writing nonfiction articles I didn’t think I would need to do that. Why should I bother to write an outline for 400-600 words of content? Then I made one by accident when I was writing down an idea to write about later. I kept adding notes about information I wanted to add and before I knew it I had a finished outline. That one simple step reduced the time I spend writing by almost 75%. This is how I do it:
Pick Your Program
Having the right tools for the job is important. You can make your outline with a pen and paper if you prefer to keep it low tech, but I personally use either iThoughtsHD for iPad or XMind (available for both Mac and PC) when I’m on my laptop. There are countless other options out there. Find what you are comfortable using.
The First Pass
When you initially start your outline list all the information that you want or need to include about the topic. In the case of this article, those became my subheadings. When plotting a novel, they will most likely be chapter overviews. If you think of information that will go under each topic, go ahead and add it, but don’t worry about filling in all the blanks at this stage.
The Second Pass
This is the point where you start racking your brain for examples or additional information you need for each topic. I find it really easy to fill in the blanks when I see the headings all laid out for me. These subtopics will form the body of text under each subheading in an article or will be the scenes of your novel.
Congratulations! If you are writing an article or don’t enjoy writing a novel with a comprehensive outline, you’re all done.
If you are writing a novel and want a full outline to work from, you’ve still got some work to do. You’ll probably want to switch to another program for this part since you’ll be writing a lot of text.
Sit down and visualize how each scene should play out. You want to note all the characters, the main events and dialogue at the very minimum, but feel free to go into as much detail as you want. If you’ve done it right then you’ll have a very rough first draft that you were able to knock out in a matter of hours rather than weeks.