Do they still teach outlining in high school? That’s all I remember being taught about organizing a project.
I have a vague memory of trying to force projects into strict outline form.
You know, with Roman numerals, normal alphabet letters in both upper and lower case, depending on position, numbers and what-have-you.
I also know that Word will take pages of writing and turn them into something that looks like an outline – I’ve never found that button particularly useful because the resultant mess of bullets, etc. mean nothing to me.
There are all sorts of good resources on outlining if you want a formal one. City University of New York has a Basic Outlining page that makes the process fairly clear. If you don’t like that one, just google ‘outlining’ and you’ll get thousands of pages.
I don’t outline well because I find the process boring and because my mind, although fairly linear, doesn’t work quite that way. I also don’t do well with mind mapping, partly because my handwriting is so awful and partly because I’m never clear how to get from a mind map to something more usable.
I’ve got a little list
Maybe because I grew up listening to Gilbert and Sullivan’s The Makado and still know many of the words from “I’ve got a little list” or maybe it’s just the way I’m wired, but I operate best from simple lists.
The table shown above is actually from what I call my Daily Hit List – this is where I list what I want to accomplish each day. It’s in table form because I also want to see certain projects listed I know I won’t even work on today – things like ‘Family Story.’ It’s a project my kids have asked me to do and bit by bit I’m getting it written, but it’s not a high priority. I also have various notes in some of the columns. The columns allow for a bit more information when I need it.
I also have hit lists for projects within the Daily Hit List. For example, although it’s not exactly a writing project, I have an extensive hit list for Forum which lives at AboutWritingSquared. Those are often in table form too, with a column for information on how I solved a particular problem or a link to a website with a solution.
Organizing a book
When I write a book a major part of the initial development is a Working Table of Contents. It’s another kind of list – of everything I or a ghostwriting client thinks needs to be in the book. It starts out in almost random fashion, then, as we work with it, begins to resemble an actual table of contents. But the list is the key.
I particularly like making lists with my word processing program because the computer makes it so easy to reorder the list over and over again. I can add things that I missed the first time through, refine items that are too broad or too narrow and generally keep massaging it until it works. I can use the strikeout feature in word to indicate what’s finished and what’s still to be done.
If I’m working on a project with someone, using Google docs for organizing can work wonders since we both can edit it.
I also find when coaching writers that the idea of a list is way less intimating than that of an outline. It seems simpler because it is and because we all make lists of one thing or another as we go through life. You don’t need to learn anything new to make a list.
The key, of course, is organizing your writing project. It doesn’t matter so much if you use an outline, a mind map or a list, as long as whatever method you use gets you writing and helps you actually get your writing project done.
How do you organize your writing projects?
Write well and often,