#216: Writer's Block Series 1/4: Why the Lack of Outlines Even Stops Professional Writers In Their Tracks

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If you're already good at writing, do you need an outline?

It might seem one more barrier and yet it's the first element that creates this so called Writer's Block. Find out why outlines are a map that quickly get you to your destination.

Click here to read online: Writer's Block Series 1/4: Why the Lack of Outlines Even Stops Professional Writers In Their Tracks

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If you give employees a bonus, will they work harder?

This is the seemingly obvious question that Michael Sturman had to contend with. Sturman, a professor at Cornell’s School of Hotel Administration, decided to find just how much pay and performance mattered.

And as you'd expect, he found the obvious. People who are paid above the market rate, do a much better job. As you'd imagine, he found that even a 1% raise, can tend to boost employee performance to about 2%.

However, when the same 1% bonus was linked to a specific task, the job performance spiked as high as 19%. Turn that statistic around, and we can speculate that the employee had been working at 19% lower than their potential.

When writing articles, it's easy to work way below your potential as well

And most writers feel their potential is reached when they do fancy research or when they sit down for hours to write. However, a lot of potential is wasted long before you sit down to write a single word. A lot of the potential lies in the stages of preparation.

Let's look at three critical elements that cause a fair bit of chaos:
  1. The Lack of Pre-Work
  2. The Scarcity of Input
  3. Understanding Energy Management When Writing
1) The Lack of Pre-Work The moment I sat down to write this article, I was a little lost.

I'll tell you why. I hadn't done much pre-work.

I fully intended to outline it, work out the story that was needed, and add a lot of notes. However, when it came to writing the article, I did what most writers do.

I sat down at the computer and hoped I'd get lucky. And luck can be pretty fickle under the best of conditions, but it seems to take special pleasure in taunting the article writer.

The problem with article writing is that we don't see it as several tasks

Writing an article is more like an expedition than a casual walk in the park. To get a well-written article out, you need the story, or possibly more than one story (just like the pay-performance story above).

Then you've got to have at least one point in that story that's exceedingly curious. The opening paragraph can cause enough grief for a writer, but it doesn't stop there.

You need to know the points you're going to cover, have case studies and examples, need to understand at least one or two of the main objections, the headline, and yes, the list goes on and on.

I've written about 50 articles a year for about 18 years

That is roughly 900 articles, and this doesn't take into account course material, books and over 100,000 posts in forums. In short, it's a heck of a lot of writing.

You'd think you'd get really good at writing with all of this experience, right? And you do. But we're not talking about writing at all. We're talking about preparation.

Without the ingredients, an expert chef can make a dish relatively quickly, but there's a lot of fumbling and bumbling before that meal is ready. However, with the smallest amount of preparation, that dish, even in the hands of a newbie, can be so much better, so much tastier.

Easily the most critical pre-work lies in three main areas

The first is the outline. I didn't have any outlines to write in school, so I can't share the hatred of outlines. However, on the article writing course, most clients start off with resenting the very thought of outlining.

They come around when they realise that the outlines they did at school were terrible and that outlines for article writing are more like a laundry list of what needs to go where. But even among the converted, the additional step of outlining seems like another 10-15 minutes of work that can be avoided.

And it can't

I did that this morning when I sat down at my computer. And like that expert chef, I can manage to write when I'm half asleep, but I still waste enough time that I could have simply spent with a quick outline on a Post-It.

I did outline the points, of course, but failed to make any notes and had to work out what I was saying as I went through the article. And that's just one element we're talking about. The outline, the story, the objections, the headline—they're all work in progress.

Yes, even the headline

Though it's a spindly one or two lines, having a raggedy working headline in place keeps the article on track. In this very article, I went up to check the headline thrice, to make sure I wasn't wavering.

And all of this back and forth is wasted time and wasted energy. If you're good at a task, you can wing your way through it, even on really rough days, but if you're prepared, it's a whole different ball game, isn't it?

However, the preparation stage isn't confined to the outline alone. The second point we need to cover is the input. If there's one thing that will derail you every single time, it's the lack of input.

When you have input, you have a regular source of information. It's a feed you can't ever do without. If you don't keep that input flow going, your article suffers. And this is long before you even get started.

Next Up: The Scarcity of Input

Next Step: Writer’s Block 2/4: Why Cross Pollination of Ideas, Media and Styles Are Crucial (And Avoid Shutdowns When Writing)

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