Forget about the Roman-numeral-heavy outlines from grade school and think in lists, paragraphs, images, or phrases — whatever helps you organize your thoughts.
Outlines are best used for organizing information chronologically, which is great for larger projects like books. However, your outline isn’t limited to words. If you have photos that inspire certain scenes in your story, feel free to paste those into your outline as well.
Personally, I like using a basic outline written in complete sentences that defines my story from start to finish. However, outlines can be customized to fit your writing style.
Similar to an outline, a timeline lays out your story chronologically, giving you a big-picture view of what’s happening in your plot. If you’re a visual person, creating a physical timeline with a roll of craft paper on an empty wall in your home works well.
When I was 16, I created a giant timeline of a manuscript I wrote so that I could see when everything was happening in the story. I wrote basic plot points on the timeline directly and used sticky notes for smaller events so that I could rearrange them. This helped me understand where the plot was lacking and helped me fill in some holes. (This story is still under construction.)
There are a ton of free resources available online that can help you plot your story and organize your thoughts and ideas. While there are some paid programs designed specifically for writers, I’ve found that basic project management programs can be easily adapted to fit the needs of a writer. Here are three of my favorites.
Perhaps the simplest and easiest to use, Google Drive is an online storage facility for all of your big ideas. I love creating project folders for my stories because I can have a folder for each piece of the planning process, whether it be inspirational photos, drafts, or brainstorm documents.
Trello is an interesting project management platform that allows you to create boards, lists, and cards. I’ve found this site to be particularly helpful when I’m in the early stages of planning a project because you can break your project out into sections via the boards and then assign specific plot points to cards, which can be infinitely rearranged. It’s basically like using index cards, except you can’t spill coffee on them.
If you prefer something that is really simple and easy to organize, I suggest using Bear. This desktop and mobile app offers both word processing and easy organization. Just use hashtags to categorize your documents. When you need to find something, you can search hashtags to find the document you need. This loose form of organization works great if you are still in the early stages of plotting and aren’t sure exactly how you want to structure your work.
How do you currently organize your writing? I’ve used all of these methods in the past, but right now, Trello and Bear are my two favorites. Once I get through the conceptual stage on my current project, I’ll probably start using a traditional outline.
Find out more about Emily here.