Sneaking up on the first draft—part 2

I’m continuing to explore how to get drafts written more quickly as a way, if not to short-circuit the stress of writing, at least to manage it better. In my last post I recommended the Gigantic Outline. Today’s technique is from Robert Boice, whom I’ve mentioned in previous posts.

Boice recommends an approach he calls a conceptual or elaborated outline. Essentially, it’s a rough list of points with notes underneath to start fleshing them out. I’ve been doing some version of this on my own, already, forever—not worrying about the Roman numerals, just throwing ideas on the page in some tentative order. But what Boice brings to the party is:

• Each point gets not only a brief description, but also includes your questions, reservations, and even dialogue with yourself about how to treat the material. This means that instead of getting stuck when you run into doubts or concerns, you can incorporate those concerns into the process. You’re embracing the enemy instead of using up energy fighting with him. (My take, not Boice’s.)

• You can rewrite your outline—in fact, you’re expected to. You add detail, emphasize some points, de-emphasize others, move things around. As you include successively more information in each version, you get closer and closer to an actual draft, without having to take yourself officially in hand to Sit Down and Write.

• You proceed even when some points aren’t complete. Holes in outlines are a good thing, says Boice. I like that—anything that encourages me to move ahead imperfectly.

I’ve been noticing that the mere act of putting a dash or bullet point in front of an idea helps me lighten up a tiny bit. There’s something about The Draft that automatically makes me stiffen. When it feels more like a list, and less like a draft, it’s less daunting—the inner doomsayer doesn’t make quite as much noise.


  1. This is so cool–thanks, Janet! I think I’ll experiment with this one, too. The only issue I see is that you have to be pretty darn clear on your topic even before you start writing…sometimes I am, and other times I’m not. During the latter, I tend to free-write until chunks of things give me a “yes!” reaction, and then “structure” (heh) the rest of the writing around that.

    Maybe what we should be after is a menu of options, so we can pick and choose whichever method(s) will get us through a particular writing session on a particular day?

    Please, keep ’em coming! These are helpful! :o)

  2. Sarah Bray says:

    I am going to try this today. I’m also going to do it on paper. For some reason my plain jane notebook is less intimidating than my computer screen. And since it really is “just a list”, I don’t have to get annoyed that I’m writing long-hand just to type it later. I’m writing a *list* and then typing the actual thing. Totally different. 🙂

  3. Janet Bailey says:

    @Michelle – A menu of options is indeed what we’re after! Glad these are helping.

    @Sarah – There’s something about the computer screen that makes it all seem so official and formal, which is funny since theoretically, editing is easier on the computer. Maybe the hangup is that onscreen, the doc looks (graphically) closer to a finished product.

  4. Kim Flodin says:

    I’m all about bullet points, dashes and lists. They really help me organize my thoughts without feeling overwhelmed.

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