Thou Shalt Outline (Before You Write)

by Linore Rose Burkard

One of the most remarkable “God encounters” of my life happened while I was in college. It was a pressure-crunch week with no less than four essays coming due. For some English Majors that may not be too daunting, but for a perfectionist whose self-esteem depended strongly on getting an A or A+ —every time–I felt sadly doomed. (Melodramatic? Yes–maybe that’s why I’m a writer!)
I was standing at a bus stop outside of a New York Public Library, trying to decide whether to get on the next bus and catch a few precious hours at my apartment before heading off to my exhausting full time evening job at a hospital, or maybe doing some research or writing. If I chose to write, I’d end up having to go straight to work without that little bit of down time.

I wasn’t praying at the moment. Since I lived alone then, I did habitually pray earnestly, sometimes for hours. (I was a new Christian and in love with God!) But quite suddenly, out of the blue, I heard the Lord speak to me. He said, “I’ll give you the paper.” I’d been thinking about a certain paper–it was on the medieval poem, “Sir Gawain and the Green Knight.” My chosen topic for the essay was the function of the “wheel” (a poetic device) in the poem. So when God said, “I’ll give you the paper,” there was no doubt in my mind which paper he meant.

Hmm. Having never had such an experience before, I didn’t know what to do, but I walked rather woodenly into the library and sat down and opened a notebook. And then–the miracle. (His speaking to me was miraculous, in my book, but it gets even better.)

As I put my hand to write, and not a second sooner, an outline came to me, point by point, including sub-points beneath each major point. In minutes, I had an astonishing outline. I went home and typed up my paper.

Now, you should know that I have absolutely NO–and I mean, NO–talent for writing outlines. To this day, to my great regret–(because obviously this is how GOD writes!! It’s GOT to be the best way, right?)  I just can’t do it.

The following week when my professor was handing back papers, he called me up to his desk, thoroughly impressed. The paper was brilliant, spot on, A++. He urged me to enter a prestigious English major contest, the name of which I’ve completely forgotten. This became one of  many lost opportunities in life, because I nodded as though of course I’d enter this contest, all the while convinced, with a sinking heart, that it was impossible. With my work schedule, I had no confidence of ACING the contest, so there was no question of entering. (Yeah. Idiot. Actually, back then I was anxiety personified.)

So what’s the moral of the story? First, that falling to our knees in earnest prayer can result in God showing up unexpectedly in miraculous ways!  But as writers, it’s this: Lots of authors will tell you that it’s best to start a novel with an outline. Why? Instead of having to edit and rearrange a whole novel, you can fix your much simpler outline, see the problem spots before you write them out, and save yourself a ton of trouble. I TOTALLY agree. I’m convinced it’s the best–dare I say it? Blessed, way to write!

Unfortunately, I can’t do it. But I can still tell you to!

An excellent book, if you care to give it a try is First Draft in 30 Days, by Karen Weisner.
I used this book while I wrote my third historical romance novel, The Country House Courtship, and came closest to writing an outline that worked (aside from that singular instance of divine inspiration) than I have ever done otherwise.

So, if you happen to hear the voice of God dictating a novel word for word ( I certainly haven’t!) go for it.
If not? Try an outline.


Thou Shalt Outline (Before You Write) by Linore Rose Burkard (Click to Tweet)

See the problem spots before you write them out~ Linore Rose Burkard (Click to Tweet)

I’m convinced it’s the best~ Linore Rose Burkard (Click to Tweet)

(Not Final Cover)

Linore Rose Burkard grew up in NYC in a family of ten. She left home at 19, worked her way through college and graduated magna cum laude from CUNY. An author of historical romance and young adult suspense, she now lives in Ohio with her husband and five children, a Shorkie and cats.

“It’s a great time to be a fan of YA novels! L.R.Burkard is back with the
next tale in her dystopian series, and the bar of excellence is raised
to new heights with this top-quality literary offering! Deena Peterson,  Blogger/Reviewer
See PULSE, the electrifying start to the series Here.