Make an Outline and Promise Yourself Not to Stick to It

Outlines are helpful as starters and prompters, but they are harmful if they prevent further growth or new directions in your draft. I don't always use outlines when I write, especially on short projects, trusting instead that I can hold my focus by a combination of private incubation and constant rereading of the text before me. When I do outline, what proves most helpful is the very process of generating the outline in the first place. If it's a good outline, I quickly internalize its main features and go from there. I seldom stick religiously to the formal method of outlining taught me in seventh grade, but like many writers before me, I find an outline useful to fall back on when I get stuck. When I do make a detailed outline, I find it easier to see coordinate and subordinate relationships in my project, although I usually discover these after I've been writing a while and not in my initial outline. The alternation of writing/outlining/writing/outlining often works well because both the outlining and the writing are acts of discovery for me.

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