How To Save Tons Of Writing Time – By Using A Complete Outline

by Paul Wolfe on February 5, 2011

This post is the first guest post published on the One Spoon blog.  The author of the post – Marina Brito – is a good friend of mine and is a member of TWO of the three Mastermind Groups that I’m currently in.  She emailed me after my last post on outlining and said she had an article on Outlines that didn’t have a home and did I want it as a guest post.

If you read my last post you’ll know what I think about the power of outlines.  Marina’s article is a practical, no-nonsense guide to writing a simple outline that will help you complete more blog posts and articles – and save you a ton of time in the process.

That’s a win-win in my book.  Over to Marina….

How To Save Tons Of Writing Time – By Using A Complete Outline

A few months ago, it was the Christmas season and I was out shopping for Christmas presents for my family.   I found my shopping trips to be inefficient, long-drawn, and incredibly frustrating. So much for the Christmas spirit!

But why did shopping have to be so frustrating? I realized that it was because I hadn’t planned it ahead of time and I had to figure out what to buy on the fly.

This frustration while shopping reminded me of my frustration while article-writing

My article-writing was also inefficient and long-drawn.   Just like my shopping, it was not planned ahead of time and I had to figure out what to write on the fly.

But I was in the practice of outlining my articles. So why was I still struggling?

I struggled because I often sat down to write my articles with a half-outline.  What do I mean by a “half-outline”?

A half-outline is one which only has questions in it

The questions that I’m talking about are the ones that I use to construct my outline such as: “how”, “why” and “what”.  I can also have other points that I want to cover in my article, but in a half-outline they’re just a list of points to cover.

The problem with the half-outline is that there are no answers to go with the questions or the points.  And that’s why I practically had to write every article on the fly and it was such a long-drawn and frustrating experience.

Fortunately, I found a solution:

The solution is to have a complete outline

A complete outline adds answers to the questions and to the points in the half-outline.  This is probably easier to understand through an example:

Let’s see how to use the complete outline on an article


If I were to write an article about walking the dog, my half-outline (because there are only questions and points to cover) would be something like this:
- Why walk the dog?
- Who walks the dog?
- Where to walk the dog?
- Counter-point goes here
- Example goes here
- etc…

And my complete outline (questions AND answers) would look like this:

- Why walk the dog?
ANSWER: To get some fresh air and exercise
- Who walks the dog?
ANSWER: We take turns
- Where to walk the dog?
ANSWER: On a 1-mile loop near the house
- Counter-point: Not all dogs need walks
ANSWER: But it’s a great opportunity to bond
- Example:
ANSWER: Story about my aunt and her dog walking to the lake
- etc…

Do you see how the questions together with the answers make up a complete outline?

Plan the complete outline up front

What I found after planning a complete outline up front, was that writing the article was easy-peasy.  No more endless editing or rambling about.

With a complete outline, writing the article was only a matter of expanding the thoughts a bit more, adding connecting sentences, creating a summary at the end, etc. and voila! I had a complete article in a much shorter period of time.

Still, sometimes I mistakenly think that I don’t need a complete outline.

Sometimes, I believe that all the answers are in my head

Occasionally, I think that writing out a complete outline is unnecessary.  After all, I have all the information that I need inside my head.   Sometimes I think that writing out the complete outline will take too long and that it’s easier to just write a simple article without the outline.

What I inevitably find is that by trying to write without a complete outline the process takes much longer.  Without a complete outline my article bloats and wanders around and I end up self-editing for hours on end until exasperation and exhaustion hit.

I’m telling you: there’s no need to go through that pain

Try the complete outline.  Even the pros create complete outlines!

Let’s summarize:

Summary

Writing articles used to be as frustrating to me as shopping for Christmas presents.  The source of my frustration in both cases was lack of prior planning.    In article writing, prior planning translates to having a complete outline.

First, I start with a half-outline.  I write down the questions (and I don’t just leave it at “How”; I must expand the question into a complete thought).

Next, I think through what I want to convey in my article and answer the questions.  This results in a complete outline.

Finally, I fill in the article.

Next Step

I invite you to create a complete outline for your next article and see how you will save tons of time while writing.

Marina Brito is exploring content marketing for her real estate practice based in Fairfax VA (near Washington DC).  You can find her at www.defeatthecousin.com.  Marina is author of “Cómo Comprar Casa En USA”, which you can find here on Amazon.

Related posts:

  1. How To Create Momentum When Writing An EBook
  2. How To Avoid Writers Block #2 – The Power of Outlines
  3. Why Now Is The Perfect Time To Start An Online Information Based Business

{ 31 comments }

Dave Charest February 5, 2011 at 9:33 pm

Great tips Marina.

It’s amazing how much time outlining does save and yet I still find myself resistant at times. Sigh.

Marina Brito February 5, 2011 at 10:13 pm

Thanks, Dave!

I have to confess that I, too, sometimes skip complete outlining. And a few hours of “article-writhing” later I remember why I shouldn’t have skipped it!

Trisha Cupra February 6, 2011 at 1:02 am

Thanks Marina. In this case, “The questions are not the answer.” :)
I’ve just started outlining so this will definitely help me.

Tom Nunamaker February 6, 2011 at 3:39 pm

Nice article Marina! I’m starting the Article Writing Course with Sean (Home Study) and our MasterMind group starts tomorrow! I’m pretty sure I heard you on the alumni call! You all had so much great advice. I’m a bit overwhelmed already and we barely started! Tips like this REALLY help a lot!

Thanks so much!

Marina Brito February 6, 2011 at 5:11 pm

Trisha,

I like the way you said it: “The questions are not the answer”

That phrase seems to be the perfect summary for the article.

I’m glad that you found the complete outline idea useful!

Marina Brito February 6, 2011 at 7:19 pm

Hi Tom,

Congratulations on investing in your article writing. Working through a structured course like Sean’s “Toughest Article Writing Course in the World” at Psychotactics.com is a priceless investment.

No need to be overwhelmed. You just need to make sure to practice every day. Very soon you will be offering your own tips to others.

Neil Smith@Life Insurance New Zealand February 7, 2011 at 1:00 am

How often do we wrongly think something is quicker without planning? Reg Garters, a New Zealand management consultant states this fact. “If I have an hour, I want to spend 20 minutes planning the use of it.”

As you say, whether it be all important article writing to soft sell your concept or product, or whatever, I need to spend more time outlining what is going to happen so I can ensure better success in the short run.

Melanie Kissell February 7, 2011 at 10:59 am

Aaah … the elegance of simplicity!

What you have shared, Marina, is both profound and simple. I love the way you glide right through this outline-writing tutorial! All the pieces of the puzzle just snap together beautifully. And you need both the questions and the answers to have a complete puzzle (outline). :)

Your tips and story-telling talent are much appreciated!

Marina Brito February 7, 2011 at 5:03 pm

Neil,

I’m off to read about Reg Garters, thanks for sharing. I also “waste” a lot of time planning – but it always pays off during the implementation phase.

Please come back and share how outlining helped you be more successful.

Marina Brito February 7, 2011 at 6:10 pm

Hi Melanie,

Good to see you here.

I’m glad that you found my tips for outlining simple and useful.

About the talent piece… we have a belief around here: “Talent is merely the result of practice, practice, practice”. It’s great to see that my writing practice is paying off. ;)

Melanie Kissell @SoloMompreneur February 7, 2011 at 8:48 pm

It’s definitely paying off, Marina!

I’m just hoping “Practice Makes Perfect” isn’t your motto. I’m a recovering perfectionist. :)

Write On!
Melanie

Paul Wolfe February 7, 2011 at 9:06 pm

Melanie,

Thanks for stopping by (twice in one day too!).

The ‘practice makes perfect’ idea is something that is a bit of a cliche and probably past its sell by date. I’d tend to modify it and call it as: Deliberate Practice Makes Perfect.

Deliberate Practice is a topic that I wrote about on my how to play bass website, and in fact I wrote a book on it. It’s a topic that I have not yet written about on this website – but Marina and I are part of a group of about 15 people who are setting out to write 100 Articles in 100 Days – so I’m guessing that I’ll be digging into the Deliberate Practice drawer for inspiration for those.

If you understand Deliberate Practice you can use it to get better at anything. From knitting to painting to writing to playing an instrument to golf…to anything. You can use it to go any level too….to find out more you’ll have to stick around for a while!

Paul

Melanie Kissell @SoloMompreneur February 7, 2011 at 9:38 pm

Love it, Paul — and so much more “palatable”! :)

Paul Wolfe February 7, 2011 at 9:48 pm

It’s not only more palatable it’s actually true. Whereas ‘practice makes perfect’ has a grain of truth in it – but also has within its three word statement the recipe for hitting a plateau.

You have to know WHAT to practice to get better. I better get writing some Deliberate Practice articles….

Paul

Melanie Kissell @SoloMompreneur February 7, 2011 at 10:06 pm

You’ve piqued my curiosity and now I want to learn more. Thanks, Paul. It’s sure nice to know the blogosphere still has authors that actually “reply” to comments.

Makes total sense to get a firm grip of “What” to practice. Otherwise, I can see where someone would end up on a proverbial (practice) merry-go-round.

You Shine!

Paul Wolfe February 7, 2011 at 10:14 pm

Melanie

I reply to just about every comment left on my blog. This post has been slightly different as it was the first Guest Post I published – and I let Marina do the talking for both of us!

And comments is a fertile breeding ground for ideas, building relationships, and other things. In fact I have a post in my idea bank on why comments are so productive for your blog….coming soon!

Paul

Neil Smith@Life Insurance New Zealand February 7, 2011 at 10:53 pm

What I find in my line of work in New Zealand is that most people look for half answer when they are doing their life event risk planning.

They look at the answers – the insurance answers, and how much they cost. That is half teh of the problem – solution scenario. They fail to look at the gap between what resources they have to rely on as a family, and what the government might help them with.

So they end up with a skewed idea of what is required to fix the problem. In fact, they don’t really understand the true size and dimensions of their financial problem at all.

This principle will apply in any family in New Zealand, and is what we call class advice.

And this advice can be applied to any area of life, including blogging. With only questions, you have only half the outline. Without a proper set of tools to answer those questions, you get stuck with your outlining.

Melanie Kissell @SoloMompreneur February 7, 2011 at 11:30 pm

Yes, the comment box is, most assuredly, a “fertile” breeding ground — No steer manure needed. :)

Ooh … I don’t want to miss that post about why comments are so productive for your blog. Pull that one out of your idea bank right away, would ya? I’ll be on the lookout.

Marina Brito February 8, 2011 at 4:18 am

” it was the first Guest Post I published – and I let Marina do the talking for both of us!”

Thanks, Paul!

It has been a very educational and rewarding experience.

Paul Wolfe February 8, 2011 at 9:45 am

Hey Marina

You’re welcome. It’s been just as educational and rewarding for me I can assure you. Thanks for writing such a cool post.

Paulxx

Keith Everett February 8, 2011 at 9:29 am

Thank you for writing this Marina…

We have all been there haven’t we?, staring at a blank sheet of paper, wondering why the ideas are not forthcoming. I will now structure my posts & articles with more thought to the actual structure itself and “think” about the outline first..

This makes actual “common” sense and I’m sure more people could use this information to create better articles.

Thanks for sharing

Keith

William Tha great February 8, 2011 at 3:17 pm

Hey Marina,

Thanks for the sensational article!

You are rig on point about saving time with outlines. I remember I use to write without and outline and I could do it faster, but it wasn’t as complete, organized, and thought through. Now I alwaysnmake and outline and yes, it takes me a bit longer, but the benefits are well worth it.

I kind of contradict your title, because I believe using and outline takes more time. For me it does, but hey everyone’s different. If I write without a outline anything goes on that paper and very fast. With one I think my things through, because I know what I’m going to put Down next.

Just my 2 cents.

Thanks again!

God bless,
William Veasley

Andrew Scalise July 14, 2011 at 7:23 pm

I have 17 sites on different topics and need to continually add new content to all of them. Some days I come up totally dry. Plus I find it hard to change gears – in the morning I may be writing about internet marketing and then in the afternoon, writing about weight loss! I’m always on the look out for new ways to make writing better and faster and to overcome ideas’ block. I will definitely add this to my repertoire.

Roy A. Ackerman, Ph.D., E.A. July 14, 2011 at 7:46 pm

Great post. I am so glad Melanie Kissell directed me here.
I don’t use this process for my blogs- they are short and relatively easy for me to process.
I DO use this for my books! It’s the only way- especially since I don’t complete them in one sitting. (I also use this process for my lectures- but then the basis is the questions the students want answered that sets the basis for the outline.)
Thanks!

Melanie Kissell @SoloMompreneur July 14, 2011 at 9:18 pm

Hey Roy — you’re very observant and I’m so glad you took the time to come over and catch this post. Paul’s got a good thing going here and I hope you’ll keep on eye on what’s happening on One Spoon At A Time!

Melanie

Paul Wolfe July 14, 2011 at 9:27 pm

Hey Roy – thanks for stopping by and leaving and comment. And thanks to Melanie for guiding you here…and her kind words!

For the shorter blog posts you talk about I’m guessing that actually you do outline – but the form is so manageable that you can outline in your head without perhaps even realizing that you’re doing it.

For longer works an outline is mandatory if it’s not to veer off topic and ramble. There are several posts here on One Spoon about outlining at longer length – plus I talk about it in my free course on writing an eBook that subscribers get.

paul

Neil Smith@Life Insurance New Zealand July 14, 2011 at 10:19 pm

Yeah, outlining is the hard part. But it makes reading so much smoother. You can see how Marina lures you into this post, and how she segues you out into looking at her blog, which is equally as interesting.

Paul’s ebook is great too. I must reread it. I’ll have to find it again. : )

Neil Smith

Paul Wolfe July 15, 2011 at 6:23 pm

If you can’t find it Neil, drop me an email and I’ll mail it to ya….

Ellen Gracie October 26, 2011 at 5:01 pm

This really helpful. To add some things up you create an outline base on an idea but sometimes we just don’t know what to write so what I usually do I take notes on whatever I have handy. That might be an iphone, an ipad, my macbook, whatever. Notes from the small device I email to myself because sometimes ideas just pop out from our heads at the times we aren’t writing. So save it on your handy devices so you have an idea on what idea your outline will be based on.

Marina Brito@Defeat the Cousin October 27, 2011 at 9:14 pm

Hi Ellen,

Thanks for the tip. I also keep and Idea Bank and an Outline bank on my smartphone. Since the content on my smartphone is synced with my online accounts, I always have my ideas handy.

Thanks for stopping by!

Michael November 24, 2011 at 8:52 am

One of my weakest point is writing. It’s really hard for me to write even a simple articles. But when I heard about internet marketing and try to learn it, it became a mandatory to learn writing. So these tips really help me a lot. I am very thankful to the author. Now I’m still learning for it gathering several studying materials just to make me know to write an articles.

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