Andy has multiple articles due within a week, but he doesn’t outline his posts. He takes each article as it comes and writes without a plan.
Perhaps he prefers crafting his garden as he goes, and while he might produce something excellent, he won’t produce it quickly.
His other work is creeping up the side of the mountain, and he is so focused on the one article, he doesn’t see it coming.
He doesn’t stand much of a chance.
Annie — on the other hand — outlines all of her work.
She has the same amount of orders due as Andy does, but as they come, she zooms through them, laying out an intro, the headlines, and the desired call to action.
She only spends five minutes doing so on each article.
Yet, she produces work faster than Andy does.
Why Is This Effective? Benefits of Outlining Your Writing
With Annie’s outlines, she doesn’t have to spend as much time thinking about what she’s going to put on paper.
Consider each headline she’s written as a small writing prompt. She’s broken down her work and can take each section as it comes.
This allows for:
Increased Morale — A task broken into sections will seem less overwhelming and will have an end in sight.
Better Content — You can always tell when a television show is improvised. Writing is the same. Having a script will always be better than the former.
Increased Research Speed — With each task broken into sections, you know exactly what you have to research. You can even copy and paste your headlines into google!
Quicker Writing — You don’t have to spend as long thinking about what to put into each section, or at a loss for what to do next. You’ve got a friend telling you each step.
As you can see, it’s key to producing quality content.
You might ask now, how does one create an effective outline?
Don’t worry, I’ve got you covered.
How To Outline Your Writing
There are multiple ways to do this. If you wanted, you could write a list with your article’s title, and a few appropriate headlines that are relevant.
That’s the most simple way.
With a more complicated piece, you might have to do more. You could expand on the above, and add a few lines of research underneath each headline, so you don’t have to spend as long switching between your web browser and your work.
If you want to go even more deep than that, however, you could consider using outlining tools. Let’s go over a few:
MindMapper — A great brainstorming tool, that does what’s in the title! Create a brainstorm with all the ideas you can delve into in your article.
Checkvist — A To-Do List that allows you to send tasks directly to your email. Subscribe to their Pro version and you can even attach files to it! (Make a list of topics you want to cover and check them off as you hit them!)
Scrivener — This one focuses on novels, but it has an excellent structure. Keep multiple drafts of your work, organise your research, and even pin pictures on their Pinboard!
StickyPad — Windows 10 has a similar tool built-in, but this is a more lightweight version. It’s a great way to make brief notes that you can use to plan your writing.
Notepad — Even more lightweight, and the bare minimum you need. Have a separate notepad open to your writing platform and chuck your ideas in there! It’s that simple!
You don’t have to use every idea. If you do, you might put out thin content and your article may end up being messier. But using these tools, you can create a pool of ideas you can pick from in your article.
(If you haven’t read the Part 1 of this series, “PLANNING For Success”, be sure to check it out by clicking here!)
The time has come! In October 2019, I convinced myself I would partake in the annual writing marathon: NaNoWriMo. Following my previous article (PLANNING For Success), I now had an idea for my novel’s plot and all that remained was to sit down, crack my fingers and get on with it. Yet working a full-time job, fatigue waited for me at home after every shift like an old friend. I knew straight away that this wasn’t going to be easy.
It’s 6:00am, the morning of November 1st. Canadian winter is in full swing and the outside temperature has plummeted below zero. I’m bundled up tight with nary an inch of skin exposed, wishing for the warmth of the number 16 bus due in ten minutes. I was thinking of nothing more than its heralded arrival, when I realised, I had a grand opportunity to begin the yearly challenge. It meant getting frostbite on my fingers and typing upon my phone, which no doubt I wouldn’t be able to feel in the cold. Yet I knew if I was to succeed, I had to take every chance I could get. A little factoid about me is that I’m lazy. There’s no point in denying that. When I finish work, I want nothing more than to go home, watch TV and forget about the world. I mean, doesn’t everyone? Yet I knew that if I didn’t force myself to write every time an opportunity arose (no matter the elements OR circumstances) I would fail. I could have waited until the evening, when I was comfortable at home but I had to be hard on myself. Otherwise, my own lack of motivation would be my enemy. I could not allow the morning temperature to defeat me yet I admit, sometimes that was easier said than done. On some days it was so cold outside, I couldn’t bear to have my fingers exposed for even a second. But at the start of the challenge, my excitement warmed me; I was eager to get underway. Thus, this year, the first 500 or so words of NaNoWriMo came into fruition in the freezing cold. With numb fingers, the quality was weak. The grammar and vocabulary? Sloppy. For me, a perfectionist, it stirred such an anger inside. My vision, my dream; the novel I one day want to see in bookstores looked as if a toddler had written it. I was doing NaNoWriMo wrong…
…No, I was doing NaNoWriMo right.
Time and time again, I’ve read that when it comes to NaNoWriMo, being a perfectionist is your own worst enemy. Participating this year proved that to me. If it wasn’t for the sloppy mess of words I threw out at the bus stop, I would never have made it to 50,000 words on November 30th. It reminds me of something I read online a while ago. It said:
“In NaNoWriMo, you’re piling the sand into the bucket ready to craft your sandcastle.”
I thought about this saying a lot as the days went by (whoever posted it, thank you!) I wasn’t writing the novel publishing agents would read; I was telling my story to myself. Who cares about the mistakes and little details? After November there isn’t a daily word quota to fill! I could be the perfectionist I wanted to be and take all the time in the world. I could delete whole paragraphs without loss, change sentence structures, replace words. What I wrote now, I would manipulate later into my masterpiece. I may be writing a mess today but that doesn’t mean I’m committing my work to be a mess forever. With that logic, I typed like a machine! My phone filled up with rushed paragraph after paragraph and I found on average, I was pulling about 400 words on the bus to work and 400 words on the bus home. I was quite proud of this. By the time I stepped over the threshold of my house after a hard day, I already had achieved over 50% of the daily quota! I felt as if NaNoWriMo was easy. Let me tell you now, it’s not. As soon as that thought occurred to me, I started to grow complacent. So much so that I started to work more dangerous. I allowed editing.
As you NaNoWriMo professionals reading this no doubt know, editing during November is a big no no. You not only lose time; you risk chopping your word count down below the daily quota thus falling behind. It’s not a good habit to get into; to self-critique so soon. Despite allowing myself the privilege, I realised this. So, I made myself a couple of stipulations. It was my way of satiating the perfectionist inside of me unable to wait until December, while keeping myself from drowning in the workload. The rules were simple:
Rule Number 1: I could only edit if I have reached the daily quota.
Rule Number 2: My word count must not fall below where it began when I started editing.
Simple. I found with this; my editing process became an exercise of fleshing out ideas more than anything. If I deleted a sentence I didn’t like I would have to replace it with another and it proved to be quite genius! I found more often than not; my editing made my word count come out higher than where it began. Having already reached the daily quota, this made the next day even more easy and before I knew it, I had a system. I had to get the bus to and from work every day, I would ALWAYS write then. When I got home, I had about a half-an-hour window before my partner returned; that was writing time too. If I hadn’t hit the quota by that point, it was a bad day. While that did happen, it was few and far between and I played catch-up as needed. For me, having a system and being consistent was essential. That’s a key secret of NaNoWriMo. Take every single chance you can get to write and remember, even ten extra words is better than zero.
So, I had a system in place, I was pumping out words. Did I have it in the bag? Let’s talk about Writers Block. Every aspiring novelist knows of it. An old, unwelcome family member that always shows up at the wrong time. I had planned my novel to a tee, I was teeming with ideas but to manifest them on the page, it wasn’t always easy. Some days I filled my quota early and had enough steam leftover to keep chugging but on other days, every 100 words was a mountain. That’s when I started to get demotivated and that’s when the marathon became a challenge. Like an addict, I’d be checking my word count with every new sentence, as if I’d casted a spell that would make one word worth a hundred. I’d stare at the clock on the corner of my computer, observing how in half-an-hour I’d made next to no progress. It made the challenge exhausting and it made me depressed. It was in these moments I became tempted to say, “well I tried.” Calling it a day would have been most welcome indeed. Yet I found, in those situations, forcing myself to write was counter-productive. In fact, it was more efficient to stop, walk away, take a shower and recuperate. You can’t force a good idea, after all. I found, actually, showering was a fantastic time to think about what I could write. I didn’t leave a shower a single time during November without feeling inspired. One such conclusion I reached when I was in a real pickle? There’s no law against writing your book outside of chronological order. I found if you jumped ahead in the story, to moments you’re excited about writing, you gain fresh ideas and reignite your inspiration. This was a massive step for me which helped to break the wall that is writers block. Once you had gotten ahead, it was a case of treading back until you filled the void, ready to flesh out your ideas later. Easy.
I wasn’t quite out of the woods.
As I said before, I work full time but I also have a loving family (who I thank so much for supporting me through November). The family became a hurdle on weekends, when I had no bus journey to work to hit most of my word count. I didn’t like the idea of sitting indoors while my girlfriend went out, unable to spend time with me. I knew I had to focus on my writing but I didn’t want it to become my everything. What I tried to do here was get in my words as early as possible. As soon as I woke up, I’d be on the computer typing like a maniac; this would often cause me to trip over my own thoughts. Let me tell you, that was a whole mess upon itself! But refer to my first paragraph; the sandcastle. A mess is completely acceptable during November; something I had to tell myself again and again. One weekend comes to mind in particular. We had a family trip and we were leaving first thing in the morning. I felt horrible about it because I wanted to go with my family but I knew in doing so, I risked losing my daily quota. Losing one day may not be such a big-deal, right? I could double up the following day but I didn’t want to get into that habit. I felt if I fell short once, it would become more and more easy to fall short again. Soon, the daily quota would creep up as I fell behind. It made me anxious. I didn’t want to neglect my family, for one. They were all looking forward to seeing me but I couldn’t give up.
The phone came to my rescue once again.
In the car on our road trip, while everyone chatted, I sat staring at my phone, typing with extreme vigour. I gave myself motion sickness and I felt rude. Yet, it turns out my family knew exactly what I was doing and they supported it. In fact, when I told them I hit the word count in the car, it impressed them. That’s another takeaway I gained from NaNoWriMo 2019. To achieve the quota, you need to make sacrifices but a loving family will support you. They will bolster you and make you feel proud. I can’t thank my family enough for putting up with me during the challenge.
Before I wrap this article up, I want to briefly talk about the last 10,000 words of the challenge. At first, the milestones came quick. I remember celebrating the first 10,000 words as if it I had written them yesterday but before I knew it, I had doubled and then tripled them. That wasn’t the case when I hit the 40,000 mark. It was as if the final stretch had a curse upon it. In particular, the last day of the marathon was a treacherous one. With the end so near, I found all I wanted to do was call it quits and have a break. They were the longest words I’ve ever written in my life. For me, it has to do with what I was saying earlier, about writer’s block. I said, if you encountered it, you could jump ahead and work backward to fill in any blank spots. As my novel was coming to a close, no longer was that option available. I had to force words. I know there are different ways of doing this to reach the goal; like trains of thoughts or brain-storms. That’s fine but as I said in my last article, to me that’s unorthodox, which isn’t a part of who I am. Fair enough, if that was your choice but for me the last 10,000 words had to push my story forward. So, I hedged. It looked a complete and utter mess. So much so, that even today, I don’t like to think of the end of my novel. As of writing this, I haven’t made it through that far in my second draft and I know when I do, I’m going to hate myself.
It doesn’t matter.
The rest of my novel is amateurish anyway. What does matter was I had written 50,000 words in one month and you can too. All you have to do is focus, take every opportunity you can and never ever give up.
Join me for the final part of this series in two weeks, as I explore the on-going editing process and what my plans are for my novel when it’s finally finished!
(I do apologise for not going into too much detail about my actual novel or the plot. I will be seeking traditional publishing for it soon and from what I’ve seen online, having all the details “out there” doesn’t look good when seeking publishers. I could be wrong. I’m just cautious!)
Cast yourself back. It’s November 1st, 2019. Halloween has made its exit and Christmas is waiting on the doorstep; family gatherings, festive cheer and happy memories! Yet before the holidays can arrive, a great journey must be completed. Yes, friends, Its National November Writing month! 30 days, 50,000 words. There are no rules and there are no restrictions. You can write fiction, non-fiction, a diary, a mess of thoughts with no threads linking them, it doesn’t matter! What’s important is that you make the daily word count; 1667 words, every day, for 30 days straight.
For me, the task sounded impossible. It was great to think about but never something I’d actually achieve. I was so resolute in this belief that even as I told my friends and family about it, I felt self-conscious. I knew that by making my participation public, I’d be a failure should I give up half-way through. That when I lost my drive and fell short, they wouldn’t support me but instead judge me. Why was I setting myself up to look bad? I knew I’d fail, I knew I didn’t have what it takes….
Somehow this year, I surprised myself.
Through a surreal turn of events, on November 30th 2019, I breached 50,000 words. It wasn’t an easy journey and though sometimes it was fun, it wasn’t always a happy one either. Yet I made it, my proudest moment! Now, as we approach Christmas, I want to share my experience in the hope that you can find inspiration for next year! If ever you’re falling short, I wish to help you reach that tough 50,000, through my journey and the lessons it taught me.
The feeling of success when you get there is so worth it!
Though, like the marathon start, we’re going to start from zero. The very top. Today, I’m going to tell you about when I decided to take part in NaNoWriMo and the time leading up to November 1st.
Without further ado, grab yourself a cup of tea! Settle in and relax as we go back to the middle of August, when I started toying with the idea of taking part.
I’d known about NaNoWriMo for as long as time itself. It was one of those challenges I’d always wanted to complete but I never quite found the courage, time or energy to do so. Everything I’d written in the past would only make it as far as 10,000 or so words before dissolving into nothing. I’d always start filled with inspiration then somewhere down the line, I’d get distracted and that’d be that. Why would November this year be any different? That’s what I kept telling myself as I considered partaking. I supposed one reason might have been that I already had an idea for a story; a fantasy novel that I’d wanted to write for years. I’d attempted it before, outside of NaNoWriMo. I made it to around 3000 words before I stopped. I didn’t run out of ideas; I didn’t get frustrated or angry. I simply closed the document on my computer one day and allowed it to grow digital cobwebs. I still don’t know why I abandoned the piece but I always regretted it. Time and time again, I tried to will myself to go back and carry on but I never found the time. I was always busy, always too tired — little did I know, that was a mindset I only adopted. In truth, I subconsciously refused to see all the opportunities I did have to write. This was one of the first lessons NaNoWriMo 2019 taught me. Even now, I’m shocked that I attempted the marathon with that mindset. Yet at the height of August I reached the impromptu decision that I’d throw all my cares aside and try. Why shouldn’t I? It was a chance to finally finish the tale I wanted to tell. NaNoWriMo gave me a goal to reach, an excuse to get on with it!
I never knew at the time that an excuse was all I needed.
As I said before, I had 3000 words before the marathon had begun. They were festering somewhere in an anbondoned Microsoft Word document. Though despite this, I elected to start from scratch. If I was to complete NaNoWriMo, I wanted to do it in the traditional sense: 0 to 50,000. Don’t get me wrong, there are no rules in regards to carrying on a partial novel and if that’s what you did, then great! But, for me, I wanted to finish the old fasioned way. A blank document that I would pour my words all over, in the hopes something nice would shine.
After I’d reached the decision to take part, the days turned into weeks. August fell into September and how did I prepare for November? I did nothing. Nothing at all. Zippo. I’d decided with certainty that I was going to take part but I found myself to be dreading the marathon. I saw it as my freedom falling into a void as I wrote page after page of jarble. I still often questioned, what on earth was I doing? I put the challenge off, to the back of my mind, for as long as possible. It was only as October began to show it’s face that I decided to research a planning schedule.
What I found made my jaw drop.
I was behind before I’d begun.
On NaNoWriMo’s website, they list exercises to be completed over the course of six weeks. These aim to assist with planning your masterpiece. The start date for these was September 9th and here I am, in October, feeling at a loss. I understand now, of course, that the dates are a guideline but alas, my mind is very absolute; if a schedule is offered then I must adhere. No questions asked. The fact we’d surpassed the start date of the course and I hadn’t followed it set alarm bells ringing in my head. It told me I was falling behind, even though NaNoWriMo hadn’t even started! You’re going to fail, I told myself and part of me already wanted to give up. Much to my shame, I was a little happy to be given an out. Like needing an excuse to write, it turns out I only needed an excuse to give up too. Something I could say to my friends and family was the reason I changed my mind and didn’t take part this year. Had I used it, no doubt I would have regretted it today. I never would have known that I was going to make it to the end of the marathon. I would have always wondered, what if?
Yet much to my relief, I pressed forward and managed to overthrow my strict mind. This was one of my greatest feats of the month, funnily enough. I decided that I’d hurry the course. Rather than spending six weeks preparing, I would instead spend one week.
Amazingly, it worked!
I followed the course on a fast moving conveyor belt. Where it suggested, for example, spending a week on character development I instead spent only two days. I felt a bit like I was cheating, that I’d be subpar anyone else in the marathon yet to my surprise, two days was all I needed. If I sat down and put my focus into planning, I could come up with aspects of my novel in a quick and efficient manner. Sure, they weren’t fleshed out as much as I’d like but it gave me material to work with. What surprised me from this, is that it actually made me excited to write! I found I was looking forward to November rather than dreading it. It gave me a fresh set of lenses to look upon my story and a desire to sit down later and flesh those ideas out.
On the bus to work, I lost myself in the world of my characters and universe. Even though nothing was on paper and even though my story hadn’t started! I found that I was asking myself what ifs? I was imaginging actors that could play my characters and I was exploring different eventualities, different situations…
All without putting a single word down. It was like magic! In an instant, I was giddy with excitement to begin telling my story when November 1st arrived. It changed everything in a click of the fingers. Yes indeed, for me, planning was key. That doesn’t mean to say you need a big brain storming session or that you need to spend weeks upon weeks doing it. A simple idea of who your characters are and where you want to be is enough to create a masterpiece.
I learned that it didn’t matter if you started late or if you fell behind. That nobody could write down what’s expected of you but only offer helpful advice. What’s important is that you get your ideas down and within mere days, the prospect of NaNoWriMo will no longer be scary. A challenge, sure but not something to fear!
So, like that, had I cracked the secret to reaching 50,000 words?
Not quite and as you’ll see in the next article, I encountered many more bumps along the way!