In school, I remember a lot of time being devoted to teaching the skill of outlining. Teachers recommended it as the best way to form the foundation for an essay or term paper.
The essay style I learned was highly structured. First came the Roman numerals, then the capital letters, the Arabic numbers, and finally the lowly lower-case letters.
It looked like this.
- Outlines are important.
- They help you organize your thoughts.
- You list what’s important about the subject.
- Then you break it down into smaller units.
For some, this kind of work felt like dissecting a living creature. They had lots of ideas, but breaking them down in this way chopped the life out of them.
This reaction is rooted in not having a primarily left-brained way.
Left vs. Right
You are probably familiar with the differences between left-brained and right-brained thinking, but here’s a brief review.
Left-brained people tend to use logic and analysis and objectivity. They think sequentially, which is why outlining their thoughts before writing something works very well.
Right-brained people think intuitively. Ideas may follow each other without obvious logic. This can make outlining nightmarish for them. They respond well to using mind maps.
Few people are entirely left- or right-brained, and it’s generally agreed that a balance and flow between the two parts of the brain creates the most creative thinking. However, right-brained people need to start where they’re most comfortable. Reverse outlining is one solution.
Let Your Ideas Flow
Let’s say you want to write a blog about tiny houses because the idea of compact, affordable, and often transportable housing appeals to you.
You already have three subtopics: compact, affordable, transportable.
You’ve researched the subject and have extensive information. Now you need to organize it.
Quickly write the topics that come to your mind without trying to force them into logical sequence.
They’re ideal vacation homes.
You can customize them.
Tiny houses are great for people who couldn’t otherwise afford a home.
Put in people’s personal experiences with tiny homes.
People can visit a place that makes them.
They make great mother-in-law dwellings as an alternative to senior housing.
Could focus on U.S. or include examples from Europe.
Keep on until you run out of ideas.
Then Start Organizing
Ask yourself how these ideas can fit together. Move them around until the list has both a logical and interesting flow. Yes, this is an outline, but it’s coming after you’ve brainstormed—and it’s not engraved in stone.
Ask yourself if you can include all your ideas in the blog, based on your projected word count. Maybe you’ll leave out the European examples.
At this point, return to creative thinking. What would be the most interesting way to begin the article?
You might start with stories about people who live in tiny houses. Stories capture readers’ interests and allow them to identify with the subject.
You could also begin with information about the savings people can realize with tiny houses. This also attracts readers’ attention.
Once you’ve written a rough draft, you may find that you don’t like the flow of the article. Feel free to move paragraphs and sections around until you’re satisfied.
Your Brain Will be Happy and Helpful
So often, right-brained people feel blocked when they have to write something because they apply left-brained standards to how they should be doing it. A more freewheeling method can slide right past writer’s block and allow you to write in a way that allows you to utilize both sides of your brain.
Pat Iyer Is a left-brain thinker who loves outlines. How about you? What method appeals to you?