I HATE and have always HATED formal outlines. Outlines with Roman numerals, small letters, and that strict formulaic approach never seemed to match my writing. I felt squished when using those outlines as mandated in middle school and high school, and I scoffed at professors in college who suggested that my writing could benefit from some outlining. Bah! Die outlines, die!
What I have always done was recognized in a New York Times article that a colleague just circulated.
Outlining in Reverse! Read it here! (http://opinionator.blogs.nytimes.com/2013/01/21/outlining-in-reverse/?hp)
There’s a name for it! I just read this piece and had one of those crazy moments of clarity when someone just named–and has therefore given legitimacy–to a practice you have had for years. A practice you maybe clandestinely hid because it did not follow traditional protocol of writing. A practice that worked for you, but since it was not named by your English professors it wasn’t REAL.
Oh, what crazy power we give the teachers in our lives….
Regardless, I have been outlining in reverse for years. You free write first, get a real solid draft, and then make an outline of your draft so that you can see–clearly–what it looks like when broken down to its bare bones. Then you can tweak, revise, manipulate, write more as needed.
Thanks, Aaron Hamburger, for naming this process for me so now I can teach it in my classes.