Wednesday, December 16, 2015

How to Write from an Outline and NOT Hate It

by Katy Kauffman @KatyKauffman28

Outlines are our friends, or are they?

I loved making outlines in my seminary class because they provided structure for the speeches I prepared.  

Things changed. 

In the past few years, I dreaded making outlines as I wrote books and blog posts. They seemed to confine the feeling I wanted to relay, and they stifled my outpouring of words.

I long to write from a feeling of inspiration—all the emotions, felt needs, and punch of a topic flowing from my heart to the keyboard and computer screen. But when I read what I wrote in that manner, I realized my train of thought could go all over the place. I needed an outline.

So how can we balance longing to write from the heart with following a logical flow of thought? Here are some ideas.

Know where you're headed.
1. Know where you’re headed. When you sit down to write, first know where you’re going, and then let the words flow unhindered. Have your topic in mind as you search for a way to begin your writing. Choose a story, quote, or question that is directly related to your topic and that will inspire the reader to keep reading.

2. Make a bare bones outline of your ideas. If outlines scare you, then write down or type in a separate file, a basic outline of what you want to say. See if your points are related, and if they transition well to the next one. Adjust what you want to include if you see your train of thought getting off track. Don’t frustrate the reader with a train of thought that zigzags between unlinked destinations or that follows a huge rabbit down an unrewarding trail.

3. Fill in your outline with complete sentences. It’s easy to create an outline of phrases, but when you write it in complete sentences, you force your brain to pinpoint exactly what you want to talk about and how you want to word it. So in your bare bones outline, make sub-points in complete sentences. Include illustrations. Bring in Scriptures. Let your heart work as much as your mind on this one. What sub-points would stir your heart to read this article or chapter? You may find that these complete sentences make great beginning lines for your paragraphs.

4. Put enough white space in your outline to write paragraphs under the points. Whether you’re using a notebook or the computer, space your outline so that you can write a paragraph directly beneath each sub-point. This helps you to see your progression of thought easily and reminds you to stay on track. When you complete the paragraphs of your article or chapter, read each point of your outline and the paragraph(s) underneath it. Did you derail, or did your train make it safely to its destination? If you let someone critique your writing, delete the outline in your file, and you will be left with only your wonderful paragraphs. 

Let an outline be your friend, and save yourself time and frustration. You can still write from the heart and avoid spending time rearranging your sentences and paragraphs to fix the flow of thought. An outline is a valuable asset to our writing, and it can make reading easier and more enjoyable for our audience. Write from an outline—from the heart!

Do you think an outline helps or hinders your writing? Share your thoughts, and don’t forget to join the conversation! 

How to Write From an Outline and NOT Hate It - @KatyKauffman28 on @EdieMelson (Click to Tweet)

Katy Kauffman is an award-winning writer and a co-founder of Lighthouse Bible Studies, a ministry which seeks to connect people to God through His Word. 

She has taught the Bible to women and teens, and has two published Bible studies for women, 2 Timothy: Winning the Victory and Faith, Courage, and VictoryShe is an editor of the new Refresh Bible Study Magazine and the designer of Broken but Priceless: The Magazine. She makes her home near Atlanta, Georgia.


  1. Katy, Great information. I also feel restricted by an outline but I need one to stay on track. Thank you for your insight.

  2. Katy, your suggestion sounds similar to my "narrative outline." In it, I don't worry about form or dialogue or word choice. I simply write something like: Claire will be late for work and has a conflict with her boss. Not sure what it's about, but it'll then make her late leaving work, which will make her miss her hair appointment again.

    Since I love to edit, I discovered I have to write this narrative outline in single space blocked form rather than manuscript double space. Otherwise, I'll transition into editing mode and get stalled working on details and description and sentence structure, which restrict my progress.
    Christmas blessings!

    1. I hadn't thought about it much, but even stories need outlines to stay on track. So thank you for mentioning your "narrative outline," Vonda. I also tend to want to edit when I start writing, but I found I need to let the words flow and see what happens. Merry Christmas to you!

  3. Funny you write about this today. My new WIP is a tough one. I was about 25K in but struggling. I realized I needed to stop and work on the outline. I just finished that and was taking a few minutes to read some blogs. Thanks for your insight, Katy. Great points and I agree with them, although my "outline" is more of a storyboard type. And as I get into those scenes, I'll write SOTP, but follow the main idea. But without that basin outline, I can flounder. And I'm not a fan of flounder. ;o)

    1. I don't like much flounder either. :) I wish you well with your new WIP. Can't wait to hear more about. I would like to see a storyboard in person, if it's printed. Do you use Scrivener?

  4. Agree, entirely. Without some kind of outline, my stories would derail. Surprises happen along the journey, and my characters might feel a bit "lost" at times--but we always find our way back in the direction we were headed, until we reach our destination.

    1. I wish you well with your stories, Linda! I would be interested to see how fiction outlines compare to non-fiction ones.

  5. This helped me tremendously. I used to prefer an outline, but just like you, began to feel restricted. Recently I have created what I call, a "modified" outline. Your suggestions will help. I also liked Vonda's tips in her comment above.Thanks! And by the way, it was a pleasure meeting you at BRMCWC.

    1. Thank you for your comment, Beckie. I'd be interested in hearing about your modified outline. I'm glad the post helped! And Vonda's comment as well.