Outlining drives people crazy
When you're writing articles, it's easy to get locked into the mistake of simply starting up the article. That's a mistake—a big mistake. Outlining is what counts most of all, and yet outlines are hated with a vengeance.
Is there a way to create outlines so you don't drive yourself crazy? And how do you create outlines for products, workshops etc?
Let's find out in this episode on outlining, in The Three Month Vacation.
In this episode Sean talks about
Part 1: What is the ‘Concept of Curiosity'?
Part 2: The Three Part Outlining System
Part 3: What is the Extraction Method?
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This is The Three Month Vacation, I'm Sean D'Souza.
In the Antarctic summer of 1912, a rescue party set out in search of Robert Falcon Scott and his expedition team. Scott and his group of explorers had been missing for over eight months. Now, when the search and rescue team found Scott's body they were horrified at the irony. All of Scott's men were dead, but not just lying in the snow a million miles from nowhere. They died just eighteen kilometers from a supply depot. This supply depot would have given them all the food and the heating they needed. This depot could of saved their lives.
Instead, there they were frozen to death in the unrelenting snow. What was even worse was what Scott and his team knew when they died, and that was that they had missed their opportunity to be first at the South Pole. Roald Amundsen got there first. Now, the difference between Scott and Amundsen could be attributed to many things including bad luck, but the core of Amundsen's team was based on planning. Amundsen's team had no friends, they just had experts that would know what to do when things went wrong, and of course there were details. Amundsen labored over the team's clothing, the ambiance of the prefabricated Norwegian cabin, the supply chain depots. He just went over everything in great detail.
In the end, luck played its role, but the better planner won. Amundsen was not only the first one to get to the South Pole, but he also managed to get back safely and to glory. His guide through the entire process was planning the journey. Outlining is about planning. When I was growing up I didn't have any outlining lessons. I don't remember going to school and doing any outlining, but I do know that when we do the article writing course we run into a lot of people that have these problems with outlining. Something happened at school that caused a lot of people to absolutely hate outlining.
If this hate is so great we miss the opportunity of doing better work and quicker work, and so we have to get over this hate of outlining, because it's critical not just for your day to day planning, your weekly planning, but it's also critical for books and podcasts and webinars, and yes of course for articles. Today I'm going to talk about articles, and how you're going to use outlining, or three methods that you could use to create an outline, without all of that hate of course. One of the biggest objections to outlining is the fact that we don't have time, and this is critical. When you don't have time, that's when you have to outline, because outlining saves time.
We spend about a third of our time outlining in different ways. Whether it's a plan for the week or the month, or if it's a book that I'm writing, or an article, or even this podcast it has been outlined in great detail, and that's what enables me to go start at 5:00, by 5:45 I'm done. The second element, which you probably haven't considered is doing the outline on paper. I always leave the office, I always go some other place, maybe to the library, maybe to the café, but you want to do the outlining on paper. This saves you an enormous amount of time. Again, because you don't have to deal with phone calls, or technology, or Facebook popping up. It's just you and the paper.
Now that we've got these couple of things out of the way, what are the three things that we're going to cover today? The first thing that we're going to cover is the concept of curiosity. The second is the three part outline, and the third is extraction.
Part 1: Concept of Curiosity
Let's start off with the first one which is curiosity. Let's say I throw three words at you, and those three words are organic sourdough bread. Now, what is your reaction? Immediately what you have is a factor of curiosity, so you say, “What is it? How long does the bread last? What's the best way to keep it? Can I freeze it? What are the types of bread? Do you get white bread, and grain bread, and specialty bread?”
Effectively what you've done is stepped into the shoes of a five year old kid, and that five year old doesn't know stuff about bread, or clouds, or recording software. What they do know is curiosity, and so what they end up doing is asking you a whole bunch of questions which involve how, and why, and when, and where, and all of these questions, and this forms the basis of an article. This forms the basis of a book. This forms the basis of any kind of planning that you're doing, but of course it's the most critical when you're writing an article, because we tend to write articles more often than anything else.
Now there are two ways to do this curiosity based planning or outlining, and you have to go through two stages for this. The first thing you have to do is list a topic. For instance, in The Brain Audit we talk about the concept of target profile. Now, when you have that target profile you have to come up with the subtopics. What you do is you brainstorm. You just sit at the café and you write everything you can think of, not analyzing what you're writing, just keep going at it. This is how we teach outlining on the article writing course and on the headline course.
For instance, we had Kai on the headline course, and he came up with his topic which is search engine optimization. Then he came up with his subtopics, which is Google, Bing, Black Hat, White Hat, spam, Google Update Keywords, keyword, Intent, Biointent, Long Tail, Short Tail, Competition. What he is doing there is he's got this topic, and then he's brainstorming all the subtopics. When you look at it, all those subtopics look like big topics in themselves. You look at something like keywords, and that's a topic in itself, but then you go down to a deeper level and you say, “Okay, let's talk about keywords. What is a keyword? Why is it important? How does it work? When does it work? Where does it go wrong,” and effectively you've stepped into some five year old's shoe.
Almost instantly an objection seems to pop up. You think, “Well, someone has written about this before.” Search engines and keywords, this is not new stuff. Do you have to write new stuff? No, you don't, because the questions that are being asked are being asked by someone, but the answers that you give they are your own answers. They're written in your own style. They're written with your own experience in mind. Even if you have very limited experience, still I want to know it from you, that's why I'm reading your article. When you are sitting down to outline, you need to do this brainstorming. Without really thinking about anything, and that's what I do.
I'll just sit there and just write a whole bunch of stuff without analyzing anything, but some days you will notice that I will ask for questions. The reason why I ask for questions is not because I don't know how to ask how and why and when, it's just that you get the energy from someone else. If you're struggling to do this, this brainstorming, just come up with a word, maybe like keywords, and then call a friend. Ask them to pummel you with questions, or take them out to coffee, and ask them to ask you all the questions pertaining to a topic. If they don't know the topic it's even better, because that's when they're going to ask you the questions that come to their mind.
Which of course takes us back to the organic sourdough bread, and you have this factor of what is it, how long do you keep the bread out, what's the best way to keep it, can I freeze it? Maybe, just maybe at some point in time that topic of freezing just becomes a topic in itself. Now you have to go down, what is this freezing? How do you make it work for you? How do you unfreeze it, what's the best thing to do, and it becomes a whole new topic in itself and that's cool. For this podcast, I got all this information about the bread, because someone asked the question. When you go to this website on bread, they ask all the questions, and they answer all the questions, and of course all of them go into the website and in the brochure.
When you look at outlining at the very core it is stepping into the shoes of a five year old. In asking all the curiosity based questions, and if you can't do it get someone else to help you. That takes us to the end of the first part, which is curiosity as a method of outlining. Let's go to the second part, which is the method I use most of all because it's the most efficient, and it's called the three part system.
Part 2: The Three Part Outlining System
When kids grow up they usually have different sorts of treats. When I was growing up my grandma gave me bread. Bread was my treat.
During my vacations I used to go to my grandmother's house, and when the bread man came, and the bread man used to come to the house with the bread. The bread was always very hot, and they were these little squares of bread, which in India we called pav. Yep, that's what she'd give me as a treat and I loved it. That's just a story about bread, but if you would take that story anywhere and split it up you could create three parts. You could say, “Tell us about your love story of bread. What is the state of bread when you were growing up,” and, “How is it different now?” Of course I'm making this up as I go along, but the point is anything can be split up into three parts.
When we took that topic of freezing bread, we can ask why do you freeze bread, how to freeze bread, and finally how to defrost bread. What we've done now is split up the topic into a whole bunch of subtopics. We answer those questions, and this is what I do in every call, on every workshop, on every book. A topic is split up into three topics. This topic of outlining we'll split up into curiosity, and three part, and extraction. If you look at just about anything else that I do it's always three parts. I'm only trying to do three parts always, but the three part system of outlining is more sophisticated, and I'll tell you why in a second.
When we looked at pure curiosity we went what and how and when and where, but when we go through the three part system we say, “Well, freezing bread.” Then we look at what is freezing bread, why is it important, how do we go about it, and so what we have here is a much higher level. Where we take a topic, break it up into three subtopics, and then we go into the curiosity. It becomes a far richer experience simply because of how we've approached the outlining. The question that arises when we're doing this assignment is not that we can't take a topic and break it up into three parts. We can all do that, the question that arises is, “Well, there are a hundred things to talk about anything.”
For instance, if I'm talking about microphones, you can talk about storage, you can talk about how to buy it how to sell it, how to get the best out of your microphone. The topics are endless, how am I going to pick three? The answer is, you just pick three. I always just pick three. There is no specific logic to the three. You have to just connect part one to part two, part two to part three, and as long as you can make the connection there needs to be nothing else that is common between them. If you took a topic like buying bread, and storing bread, and freezing bread, it looks like there's a logic, but there is no logic. Those are just three topics.
If you go into a bread website, you can find a hundred topics. It's just that what we've done is said, “Okay, we're going to take these three topics, and then we're going to connect them one to the other,” and that's how you create an outline. What we've covered so far are two ways to create an outline. The first is curiosity. Just sit down and write who, what, why, when, et cetera, and you will start to outline something in a way that a five year old does. Then we looked at the three part system, which is we take one topic and then we purposely split it up into three topics. Knowing fully well that there are probably seven or eight or a hundred more things that you could talk about that topic, but the third part is what I often use as well.
Part 3: What is the Extraction Method?
Which is called the extraction method. What is the extraction method? They already know that we have a membership site at 5000bc. At 5000bc people, clients will often ask me a question, and I encourage them to ask me a question. Then I answer, but I don't answer in the form of an article, or I don't outline anything, I just answer. This is a forum, at least part of 5000bc's a forum, and I will answer as if I were answering in a forum. Which is just a free flow of information. There is no specific structure to it. Of course, there will be some structure in my mind, but it's just a free flow information, and then as I'm writing it I realize, “Okay, I'm covering this point and that point and that point,” or at the end of it I could go back and go, “What were the points I really covered in this?”
You will find that when you do this free flow you just answer a question, you will find that you're covering two or three points in a longish answer. If someone were to ask you, “Which are the best places to visit in your city?” You could answer that question. You could say, “You should go here, and you should go there. You should go there,” and there you go. Once you've gone into that one, two, three, you're now going to go into a lot of detail, and that is because you have to justify what you just said, and so you will talk about those three points in great detail, but you're doing it in a free flow system. I don't want to call it a system, because it's not even a system, it's just free flow.
This may not sound like outlining but it is, because you come back and you look at the points that you've covered, and there will be three things that you've covered. Then you have to go backwards into the three part system, and then further back into the curiosity, and take every one of them and expand them. Now, you've written all of that stuff, so you've covered a lot of that just by answering their question. Maybe you don't have a forum, but then you do have email. Clients will ask you questions on email, and if you don't have email you have Facebook. You can ask people to ask you questions on Facebook, and if you don't have Facebook you can go to another forum, you can go anywhere.
You have to get into this habit of getting this free flow answer out, because there is no pressure when you're in this free flow mode. Go for it, just answer the question, then pull out the stuff, and now you've got another form of outlining. I know all of these three systems of curiosity, of three part, and extraction seem relatively easy, and they are and they will become very easy over time. I use all three of them in different situations. I don't have a system in place, as in I don't sit down and go, “I'm going to do a three part. I'm going to do curiosity, I'm going to do extraction.”
It depends on what's in front of me. If someone has asked a question in email, I will take as much time as I can to just free flow an answer, and then I will extract. Put it into three parts, then go to curiosity, and now we have an article. Now we have probably a booklet, or if there's enough information, and there always is, it can become a book, or even a course. This is the beauty of outlining. If you use one of these three systems, or all of these three systems whenever you feel like, but what's the one thing that you can do that gets consistent results? That to me is the three part system. I will take a topic, and I will make three subtopics or six subtopics.
I will pick a subtopic, and then that's subtopic will be broken up in three parts. Like bread, which is the main topic, and then storing and freezing and cutting, whatever and then I'll pick freezing. I'll say, “What three things can I cover in freezing?” If I have to look up information and research that's fine, but I can cover three things. Then I will expand that, and that's how I get pretty much everything I do. The reason why you find that Psychotactics runs all these articles, and reports, and websites, and all of this stuff, this whole element of being prolific comes from planning.
It comes from being Roald Amundsen. It comes from making sure that you have all of your stuff ready for this South Pole expedition, and you can't take anything to chance. You're definitely not going to go in an article sitting at your computer and trying to work it out, no, no, no. You're going to work out all the details at the café, on a piece of paper, and especially if you don't have time, because outlining saves you time every single time. When in doubt use the three part system, because that's the most efficient of all. That's your one thing that you have to do today. Take a topic and break it up into three parts and work from there.
While that brings us to the end of this podcast, there are a few announcements. The first is a storytelling workshop that we're going to have in Nashville, Tennessee, and probably in Amsterdam, which is in the Netherlands. If you'd like to register for this workshop, and yes there are no prices and stuff, but if you want more information email me at email@example.com. It's a really good price, because this is a beta workshop doesn't mean that it's going to be crappy. It's going to be as good as any workshop. For the first time we're having it, it's going to be three days, it's going to be in December, email me for details.
While you're waiting for the workshop get to 5000bc.com, that's our membership site. Why is it important to you, because you get questions answered. Most of the stuff on the internet … Well, you don't know if it's pertaining to you. You can't ask back and forth questions. In 5000bc I'm there 5000 times a day, so that's 5000bc.com. I'm on Twitter, I'm on Facebook at Sean D'Souza, and of course my email firstname.lastname@example.org. That's it for me, and The Three Month Vacation. Bye for now.
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