puppy and kitten

Good doggie.

Nice doggie.

Yes, dogs will often do what you say

The cat on the other hand, has a mind of its own.

Your outlines are often like cats. You try to rein them in, but they just meow, snarl, and go their own way. And it will drive you crazy.

But you can make an outline go woof — once you understand how, that is.

Let’s take an example:

Topic = Cartooning

Sub-topic = Cartooning faces

Sub-sub-topic = Cartooning angry faces

As you can see, the topic “cartooning” was way too vast and wild

We could have gone off in any direction, and quickly got lost, I may add. So we step down to the sub-topic, namely, “cartooning faces.” Now we have some control, but still a lot less focus than we like. Should we talk about grumpy, sad, hungry, upset, curious, desperate, tired, upset — you get the idea, don’t you? We know we’re dealing with faces, but we’re still slightly out of focus.

So we step down one level lower

Now you’re more than sure that you can tackle the “cartooning angry faces” topic. You can plainly see that an outline is already starting to form in your head. You can describe what the angry face is, why you need to learn to draw one, when you should avoid it — ah, the outline tumbles out of you like a torrent.

The topic was wild.

The sub-topic was somewhat in focus.

Ah, the joy of the sub-sub-topic.

So, should we never outline a topic or sub-topic ever again?

Should you always be wandering down to sub-sub-topics instead? No, that’s not the case. If you write an article about “pricing,” you will most certainly have to give your client the idea of what your “pricing” is. Your idea of pricing will most certainly be different than mine. If you write about the topic of “talent,” you still have to give the reader what you mean by “talent.” Again, what you see as talent may be totally different from what I’d say about talent.

So heck yeah, you’ll have to write those topics and sub-topics

But it won’t bug you as much. You now know where your sub-sub-topics are going. And that gives you an obedient set to work with. This leaves you free to then allow the nature of the “topic” and “sub-topics” to be a little more cat-like, because your sub-sub-topics will indeed be woofing obediently.

But all this sub-sub-sub must be making your head crazy, so let’s summarize

1. The topic is wild. It can go anywhere e.g. “cartooning” is a broad topic.

2. The sub-topic is more obedient, but helps to focus a bit better, e.g. “cartooning faces.”

3. The sub-sub-topic is where you hit pay dirt. “Cartooning angry faces” helps you focus with absolute clarity. And the outline tumbles out easily.

4. The topic and sub-topic are still very useful and not to be disregarded. You still have to use them to get the client to understand your position on the topic.

5. However, now that you have your sub-sub-topics in place, you feel less stressed about going off on a tangent and can use the topic and sub-topics to get your point across.

6. In effect, when brainstorming, you go from topics to sub-topics and then to sub-sub-topics. When outlining, you may want to start at sub-sub-topics and work your way upward.

Topics and sub-topics tend to meow a lot

They tend to do their own thing. But if you go through the steps of brainstorming the topics, then sub-topics and finally sub-sub-topics, you’ll find that all three of them will become more dog-like.

Good doggie.

Nice doggie.

Woof, woof, woof!

What works and what doesn’t work with your outlines? Tell us about it below.

About the Author: Sean D’Souza offers a great free report on ‘Why Headlines Fail’ when you subscribe to his Psychotactics Newsletter. Be sure to check out his blog, too.