Outline Everything

outlineplayACT I

You sit down to develop a new content plan. You have your data laid out in front of you, you know who your target reader is, you know the message that you need to get across, so you put your fingers to the keyboard and…

Nothing.

ACT II

This can happen at every level of the process, whether your write the content yourself or you put it to the writers marketplace, whether you’re the CEO, the marketing director, or the copywriter. Sometimes you just draw a blank. Coffee can help, sometimes. Other times, you can take a short walk and come back inside with more ideas than you know what to do with. And there are yet other times where nothing seems to be helping.

For many content creators, both marketing directors and writers alike, extensive planning can be the remedy to a creative block. Some writers swear by the outline; they never put a word down until they have it laid out. Others insist on “winging it” every single time they sit down to type. Most sit somewhere in between, doing some light outlining before jumping into a project, or maybe writing an extensive outline, but deviating from it significantly, only using it as a road map in case a project goes off the rails.

When you’re having trouble writing a piece, or putting into words the tone, the style and the goal of the assignment that you’re handing off to your writer, here’s a simple tip for finding the words that have escaped you:

ACT III

Write a headline and three sub-headings.

The three act structure that works in drama is so natural to human storytelling that even when a writer forgets to break their work into three acts, the reader splits it up into three acts for them, and the three act structure applies to everything from stageplays to ad copy. Everything can fit into this simple structure that you can use as a template for your outlines:

  • Headline: Here’s why you should click this link
  • Act 1: Set up a problem
  • Act 2: Lay out all the difficulties that we might face in attempting to solve that problem
  • Act 3: Let the reader know how to solve the problem

Think of those late night infomercials: “Are you tired of this happening?! You’ve tried (blank), you’ve tried (blank), nothing seems to work! Now there’s a solution!”

That same structure applies to movies, books, plays, TV shows and video games: Here’s a problem, here are some solutions that might not work, and here’s a solution that will work. When you’re totally stuck, just think of these questions: What’s the problem I’m helping the reader to solve? What are some solutions that don’t work? And how will my product fix the problem for them? Once you can answer one of those questions, the other two will answer themselves, and generating great ideas for content will be as easy as counting to three.

Gilbert S. is a writer and artist who lives in Bluewater, New Mexico, with his wife and his dog, Sir Kay.


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