How to Write an Outline for Anything

If you’re a writer then perhaps you know the term “pantser.” It was new to me. Pantser is a type of writer—one who writes by the seat of his pants. Right? The other type of writer is an outliner. Now that one’s a bit more familiar to me. In my heart I’m an outliner. I like having a plan and making it come alive. I like knowing where I’m going rather than discovering it along the way. And I don’t believe outlines cut off creativity—which is why I’m advocating for outlines and showing you how to write an outline for anything.

How to Write an Outline

What is an outline?

In case you didn’t have to write an outline in school for some reason, this is a formal way of arranging and developing your ideas. Don’t let the word “formal” trip you up—this isn’t rigid, it can be adjusted at any point in your writing. An outline can be broad strokes of big/main ideas or detailed and in-depth, depending on your approach. There’s no right or wrong way to outline, and it can be added to and changed as you go.

Why write an outline?

I sat in a workshop with author Anne Perry (by the way…you should read her bio, I had no idea when I went to the workshop. Wow!) who has written like 100 books or something in her career. It was a fascinating argument for outlining from a prolific author. Here are the benefits of writing an outline. Keep in mind she’s giving advice for book outlining, but I think it can be applied to any type of writing.

  • You own the plan
  • Outlining helps with plot clarity
  • Outlining gives your story structure
  • Outlining helps the reasons your characters do things make sense
  • You know your character growth/development from the beginning rather than figuring it out as you go
  • Outlining prevents your story from sagging in the middle
  • Outlining cuts down on the amount of rewrites

What’s the purpose of an outline?

An outline helps you organize your project (article/blog post/book/anything) by helping you check how your ideas connect to each other and discover if anything’s missing. No matter how long your writing project is, outlines help you see the big picture.

How to write an outline for anything

If you’ve read anything I have to say about content strategy, you may find this a bit familiar. The bones are the same but you get a bit more meta when you write an outline.

Here are the broad strokes in five steps.

  1. Identify your topic
  2. List your main points
  3. Structure your argument (put your points in order)
  4. Add sub-points (make connections between main points)
  5. Evaluate and adjust as necessary

See? Not so intimidating or limiting. You’re just getting it down on paper and making sure what you have to say makes sense.

A few tips for when you write an outline

Identify your topic. This should be short but still a complete sentence. This will be your anchor throughout the writing process, keeping you on topic.

List your main points. Your main points are the things you want your audience to know after reading your work. All the main points should be a building block towards your thesis.

Structure your argument. This needs to both flow and make sense to your reader. What do they need to understand first? Second? Third? As you get into writing you may need to change the order of your points, this is normal.

Add sub-points. Sub-points go under the main points—makes sense, right? To have a balanced work, the sub-points for each main point should be somewhat equal. If you have seven sub-points for one main point and two for another, it might be time to reconsider your main points as the one with only a couple sub-points may not be a strong enough argument for your overall topic.

Evaluate and adjust as necessary. Read through your outline. Does it flow? Does it make sense? Is it missing anything? Are there gaps in logic? Is there extra stuff?

If you're a writer then perhaps you know the term "pantser." It was new to me. Pantser is a type of writer; one who writes by the seat of his pants. Right? The other type of writer is an outliner. Now that one's a bit more familiar to me. In my heart I'm an outliner. I like having a plan and making it come alive. I like knowing where I'm going rather than discovering it along the way. And I don't believe outlines cut off creativity, which is why I'm advocating for outlines and showing you how to write an outline for anything.

I hope this is clarifying and will help with your next project.

Remember, outlining is your friend!

  • It take the guesswork out of what to write
  • It keeps your project on track with relevant content
  • It sets you on a strategic plan that moves you forward
  • It helps you avoid burning out
  • It keeps your project on topic

Thoughts? More tips? Pantser push back? Let me know!

Best Gifts for Writers | Gift Guide

Note: I’ll be adding to this gift guide in coming days/weeks. There are so many great gifts for writers out there! If you have suggestions or items on your wish list please send them over and I’ll add them to the guide.

Best Gifts for Writers

What do you get the writer who has everything? Or, perhaps this is more accurate: Oh no! You drew THE WRITER for your secret Santa gift exchange and you have no clue what would make a good gift! Help! What are the best gifts for writers anyway? Is there a GIFT GUIDE?

Yes, yes there is.

Best Gifts for Writers


Writer-themed coffee mugs

Have a writer on your list? Start here! These are the best gifts for writers, starting with writer-themed mugs!

Writing mugs need no introduction. They’re silly, they’re funny (to writers), and they hold coffee. AKA the perfect gift.

  1. I am a writer. That means I live in a crazy fantasy world with unrealistic expectations. Thank you for understanding mug. It’s accurate, it’s pretty, it’s practical. It’s perfect.
  2. Stay up late and write mug. I love the typewriter. And the meta writing about writing.
  3. There Their They’re mug. Don’t worry, your writer will get it.
  4. Please do not annoy the writer, she may put you in a book and kill you mug. I think the two-tone mug takes the edge off the murdery stuff.
  5. Novel in progress mug. Short and to the point. It gives a real “leave me alone, I’m writing” vibe.
  6. Writer’s Block is a Figment of Your…Uh…mug. I can’t think of anything to say about this mug.

  7. Writer-themed pendants

    Writers don't just love craft-related items, they love writing-related jewelry too! What do you get the writer who has everything? Or, perhaps this is more accurate: Oh no! You drew THE WRITER for your secret Santa gift exchange and you have no clue what would make a good gift! Help! What are the best gifts for writers anyway? Is there a GIFT GUIDE? Why yes, yes there is.

    Writers aren’t all about writing. They appreciate writing-themed jewelry too!

  8. Outlander Sassenach pendant necklace. In October I attended a writing conference and it was all Outlander all the time. So I know this one’s a winner.
  9. Keep Calm and Write On pendant necklace. A cliche, a mantra, a push to keep going.
  10. Why is a raven like a writing desk? Alice in Wonderland necklace. I’m watching Through the Looking Glass as I write this…there may have been some influence.
  11. Book pendant necklace. So many books, so little time.

  12. Writing notebooks

    Yes, this is super practical. But I’ve pulled some of the cooler writing notebooks from the Internet. Although everyone uses computers, many writers prefer pen and paper for staying organized. I even know writers who write their novels by hand!

    Writing notebooks are such great gifts for writers. Yes, this is super practical. But I've pulled some of the cooler writing notebooks from the Internet. Although everyone uses computers, many writers prefer pen and paper for staying organized. I even know writers who write their novels by hand!

  13. Field Notes Kraft Ruled 3-Pack. These 48-page mini logs are masterpieces.
  14. Prettysweeeet Planner. Text reads “It always seems impossible until it’s done.” Pretty sweeeeet huh?
  15. Wanderings Pocket Leather notebook. It’s pretty, it’s refillable, and it’s perfect for writing in.
  16. Productivity Planner. Get focused, beat procrastination, write things in a pretty notebook. Win win win.

  17. E-readers

    Writers love real life books but they also are realists. Where do they put all those books they read? Which is why you should get the writer on your list an e-reader. What do you get the writer who has everything? Or, perhaps this is more accurate: Oh no! You drew THE WRITER for your secret Santa gift exchange and you have no clue what would make a good gift! Help! What are the best gifts for writers anyway? Is there a GIFT GUIDE? Yes, yes there is.

    Writers love real life books but they’re also realists. Where do they put all those books they read? Which is why you should get the writer on your list an e-reader. Here are a few options!

  18. Kindle Paperwhite E-reader
  19. Fire 7 Tablet with Alexa
  20. Fintie NOOK GlowLight Plus Case
  21. Sony PRS-600 Touch Edition Digital E-Book Reader

  22. Craft books

    Books on the craft of writing. These are perfect gifts for writers! What do you get the writer who has everything? Or, perhaps this is more accurate: Oh no! You drew THE WRITER for your secret Santa gift exchange and you have no clue what would make a good gift! Help! What are the best gifts for writers anyway? Is there a GIFT GUIDE? Yes, yes there is.

    Books on the craft of writing are great gifts for writers! These are a few of my favourites.

  23. Writer’s Market Deluxe Edition 2018: The Most Trusted Guide to Getting Published. This is the standard gift for writers!
  24. On Writing: 10th Anniversary Edition: A Memoir of the Craft. This book is incredible. The advice and writing tips took my writing to the next level. It also banished adverbs. Yay.
  25. Jeff Herman’s Guide to Book Publishers, Editors and Literary Agents 2017: Who They Are, What They Want, How to Win Them Over. This is similar to the Writer’s Market but can there be too much of a good thing? When it comes to writing books, I say no!
  26. The Weekend Book Proposal: How to Write a Winning Proposal in 48 Hours and Sell Your Book. I’m building my book proposal right now so you can see where my head’s at. Book! Book! Write your book!

  27. Writing T-Shirts

    Writing T-shirts. These are perfect gifts for writers! What do you get the writer who has everything? Or, perhaps this is more accurate: Oh no! You drew THE WRITER for your secret Santa gift exchange and you have no clue what would make a good gift! Help! What are the best gifts for writers anyway? Is there a GIFT GUIDE? Yes, yes there is.

    Every writer needs a writing T-shirt. And these ones are funny. Trust me on this.

  28. Write on. T-shirt. Funny, right?
  29. To Quote Hamlet T-shirt. This is quite silly, but I like it! (And I think your writer will too.)
  30. I put the lit in literature T-shirt. I’m not 100 per cent sure what “lit” means in today’s slang but my gut says it’s pretty cool. So this saying is probably cool too.
  31. This Is My Writing Shirt. Pretty. To the point. Accurate.
  32. Grammar Police T-shirt. This is for those special writers or editors in your life who are proud of their grammar grasp and want the world to know they’re paying attention to misplaced modifiers and pronoun usage.
  33. This weekend is going to be LITerary T-shirt. Another “lit” joke! But I like to think of it as a nod to How I Met Your Mother, “It’s going to be legend…wait for it…dairy!”

  34. Looking for writing prompts and writing journals? This is your official one-stop shop! What do you get the writer who has everything? Or, perhaps this is more accurate: Oh no! You drew THE WRITER for your secret Santa gift exchange and you have no clue what would make a good gift! Help! What are the best gifts for writers anyway? Is there a GIFT GUIDE? Yes, yes there is.

  35. 1200 Creative Writing Prompts (Adventures in Writing). If you’re looking for writing ideas, you’ve come to the right place.
  36. 1,000 Awesome Writing Prompts. Prompt sections include beginners writing prompts, constrained writing, flash fiction, ripper prompts, and general writing prompts.
  37. A Year of Creative Writing Prompts. Kick your imagination into gear with this collection of hand-picked, hand-crafted, explosively creative writing prompts!
  38. 365 Journal Writing Ideas: A year of daily journal writing prompts, questions and actions to fill your journal with memories, self-reflection, creativity and direction. Follow the undated daily journal writing prompts and weekly actions to fill your journal to the point of bursting.

What do you get the writer who has everything? Or, perhaps this is more accurate: Oh no! You drew THE WRITER for your secret Santa gift exchange and you have no clue what would make a good gift! Help! What are the best gifts for writers anyway? Is there a GIFT GUIDE FOR WRITERS? Yes, yes there is.

Stay tuned, more to come. I’ve got ideas for writing prompts, writing-themed jewelry, writing BOOKS, writing inspiration, and writing clothing (obviously) in the queue. And whatever else I can dig up!

Setting Social Media Goals: How to Do it and What to Track

Here’s the thing. We need social media goals because we need to know our time is worth spending on social media. How can you figure this out? By reaching goals that move your business ahead. How do you reach those goals? First you need to set them. Today we’re talking about social media goal setting—how to set social media goals and what to pay attention to.

Setting Social Media Goals

The first step: When setting social media goals, you need to be realistic

Goal setting. You’re going to need goals. Let’s agree they’re integral to this process. However, while it’s fun dreaming and thinking big, the work of it is figuring out how to reach your goals. The best way to set goals you’ll actually work to achieve is following the S.M.A.R.T. goal-setting model. It’s quick, straightforward, and keeps you focused on action. If you’ve taken my free five-day marketing challenge you’ve gone through this process with me and I hope you’re still working towards them! Start with setting S.M.A.R.T. social media goals—specific, measurable, achievable, relevant, and time-sensitive.

The second step: Audit your current social media efforts

This is important to make sure your goals are based in reality and to ensure your profiles are on brand. You can audit your social media presence in any number of ways but I recommend creating a spreadsheet and collecting the following information.

  • Platform name
  • Whether or not your profile is on brand (Yes or No)
  • Whether or not your password is saved in a central place (like a password safe; Yes or No)
  • How many friends/followers your profile has
  • What your target/ideal number of friends/followers is

This is a simple document but it helps you stay organized. I also recommend looking at your follower number versus your follower goals and measuring them against the S.M.A.R.T. goals system. Are they achievable and relevant? Will they help you reach your social media goals? If not, adjust them as necessary. Need more? Here are five tips for optimizing your social media profiles.

As part of your audit also look through your posts from the past couple weeks. Ask if your posts are on brand, interesting to your ideal customer/reader, and personable. If not, there are a few more social media goals to add to your list.

The third step: Create a social media strategy

You knew I’d go there

You know what you want, you know where you’re going, now you need to figure out how you’re getting there. That’s all a strategy is. It’s a plan to get you from where you are to where you want to be. Don’t freak out! It’s not hard and it’s not restrictive. Having a strategy breaks down these huge, intimidating goals and makes them reachable. Go for it!

And don’t worry if you’re lost, I’ve done the heavy lifting—here’s how to create a social media strategy in five steps. You’re welcome.

The fourth step: Measure your impact by paying attention to the right metrics

When you’re setting social media goals it is easy to become obsessed with metrics and check them five times a day (or more). But this is not good for your mental health. You can’t ignore metrics but you also don’t need to focus on them every day. Check your metrics every week, month, quarter, or whenever makes sense to you and pay attention to the ones that will move the needle towards your social media goals. I can’t tell you the exact metrics you should watch but I will caution against vanity metrics that make you feel good but don’t mean anything. Once you start measuring you’ll understand what I mean.

Here are some suggestions of metrics to watch (also known as key performance indicators).

  • Follower growth
  • Frequency (how much are you posting?)
  • Content type (what are you posting?)
  • Engagement/Reach
  • Link clicks
  • Social media referrals (on your website)
  • Email signups

Setting social media goals helps you control how much time you spend on social media and keeps you focused on why you’re there. It can help you get to know your audience better, determine the type of content you produce, and see what’s working. By setting S.M.A.R.T. goals, doing a social media audit, creating a social media strategy, and measuring your platform growth you will find building your brand on social media not only makes sense but is fun and worth your valuable time.

Here's the thing. We need social media goals because we need to know our time is worth spending on social media. How can you figure this out? By reaching goals that move your business ahead. How do you reach those goals? First you need to set them. Today we're talking about social media goal setting—how to set social media goals and what to pay attention to.

Do you have more tips for setting social media goals? Please share!

Rock Your Marketing (Even if You’re too Busy for Marketing)

Freelance writers are business owners, busy business owners. And many of us lack the time to work on our business because we’re always working in it for our clients. Blogs, social media posts, and marketing in general fall by the wayside in favour of the now money. But what about later? Do you go back to hustling with the gigs dry up? Do you stockpile your rainy day fund in case there’s no work for a while? What if you could rock your marketing while you’re busy so you stop having dry spells? (Spoiler: You can, and I’ll tell you how.)

Rock your marketing

But first a story.

I’m part of a bi-monthly marketing challenge in one of my professional networking groups and the most interesting parts of the challenge is how many people “sit this one out” citing they have a full client load so they don’t need marketing.

What? You’re too busy for marketing!?

This is difficult to hear. Because this tells me you’re not thinking about the long game, you’re focusing on the here and now. And you should, don’t get me wrong, but it can’t be all you focus on.

Here’s what no marketing plan gets you

  • Scattered, inconsistent presentation in front of potential clients
  • Random posts and self-promotions on social media
  • Irregular networking (in person, virtual networking groups, bi-monthly marketing challenges…)
  • Unfamiliarity with competitors’ strategies

Oh, and no new clients. Unless you’re so busy month after month that you’re turning away new clients, you need marketing. Even when you’re too busy for marketing.

So, how do I rock my marketing even if I’m too busy for marketing?

I’m glad you asked. Since we’re at the beginning stages of this conversation I’m not going to ask you to do new things…yet. Right now let’s focus on what you’re already doing and sprinkle in some focused marketing. Getting it going is the first step.

Rock your marketing with these three tips

First, think about the content you put out on social media right now

Be honest. When you post something on social media, what is it about? Personal? Photos of your weekend? Political memes? Food? Is anything you post related to your business or how you serve your clients?

If you’re going to rock your marketing, I challenge you to consider your social media platforms places where you can attract new clients and brand yourself rather than something separate. Who is your ideal client? How can you help him/her today? How can what you post be useful in moving him/her ahead? How can you inspire someone? (Need help? Here’s your five-step social media strategy for freelance writers.)

Second, carve out time to connect with your ideal clients or colleagues

And no, this does not mean sending out cold pitches by email. CONNECT!

Remember, I’m not asking you to do anything new…yet. So who are the people you speak to every day? Do you pass them on the street? In a store? In a restaurant? Look them in the eye and make a connection. Start with hi, hello, how are you. One or all of those will do. Next? Have a conversation. It doesn’t need to be deep or time-consuming, but make sure you mention something about how what you’re working on lights you up and you love your job. Make a connection, then continue on with what you were doing.

But what if you don’t go out because you’re chained to your computer desk all day? How about a nice email to a contact? A check in, a hey how’s your business going? Is there anything I can help you with today? Or how about an old client, why not send a nice note and see if there’s a project you can help out with. If not, no biggie. But you tried. You reached out. You connected.

Third, you don’t need to post new content every day

Hear me: you need to post content, but it doesn’t have to be new. Whoa.

This was a huge mental shift for me. When I let go of the idea that every blog post was a slam dunk and lived on in my readers’ minds I was free to re-use them as appropriate. (By the way, I wrote about my favourite tools to re-share content here.) I combed through my archives and pulled the articles I thought my idea clients would enjoy. Then I plugged them into a content library, created a schedule, and let them go. I’m still amazed at the freedom I feel setting up this small automation. Because I can accept that not everyone will see my LIFE-CHANGING articles and freelance writing tips the moment I write them I’m free to keep sharing them on various platforms. All it takes is this careful balance of humility and pride.


See? That wasn’t so bad. Don’t you feel ready to rock your marketing? These three itty bitty marketing tweaks can help you ROCK your marketing! Visualize how stress-free your freelance marketing game could be. Dream big, my friend.

Now, a word of caution. You can go down the marketing rabbit trail and end up overwhelmed and not sure which shiny object to focus on. Because there is always more you can do. All we’re talking about today is not doing nothing. Don’t do nothing. Keep putting yourself out there, even if you’re busy and have a full client roster. Keep networking, keep posting relevant, helpful content on social media, and keep putting your work out there even if you haven’t created anything new in a while. Keep going!

Freelance writers are business owners, busy business owners. And many of us lack the time to work on our business because we're always working in it for our clients. Blogs, social media posts, and marketing in general fall by the wayside in favour of the now money. But what about later? Do you go back to hustling with the gigs dry up? Do you stockpile your rainy day fund in case there's no work for a while? What if you could rock your marketing while you're busy so you stop having dry spells? (Spoiler: You can, and I'll tell you how.)

One more thing. If you’ve got these three daily tasks down you may be interested in my free five-day marketing challenge for freelance writers. It walks you through putting a few simple systems in place to help you with goal setting, reaching out, keeping in touch, and even a bit of branding. Why not check it out? I made it for you!

Essential Freelance Writer Website Elements

If you’re a freelance writer, do you even need a website? What are the essential freelance writer website elements anyway?

Seven essential freelance writer website elements

Around the Internet I see a lot of advice and tips for author websites but I don’t see much out there to help freelance writers. Why oh why are we left out? Don’t worry. I’m here to help. Here are seven essential freelance writer website elements. Oh, and three things.

First things first, you need it. Every freelance writer needs a website. Don’t let anyone tell you otherwise. A website is the most critical tool in your freelance writing marketing arsenal. It’s available on-demand, year-round and is the one place you have complete control over what the message is. You want and need a website. (Which is why we’re going after the freelance writer website elements today.)

Next. There’s a common idea that social networks can replace a website—that’s where your readers and clients are anyway. But here’s the thing. You don’t own the platform and you can’t control the message. You can add to the conversation, yes. And I think you should be social networking. However, you don’t want all your eggs in the social media basket. It could go away at any time, and then what?

One more thing

Set goals for your website. Yes, I’m talking about S.M.A.R.T. Goals and yes, you need to set some. What’s the primary goal of your website? What do you want people to do when they land on your site? Who do you want to see your writing website? When you know what your goal is, you will know how to build it to help you achieve your freelance-writing goals.

Let’s get into it. What are the essential freelance writer website elements?

Less is more here

  1. Clear name. Look at your website. Is your name visible? Anywhere? Make it visible. If you write under a business name you can use that one, but make sure it’s easy to spot and read
  2. About page. This could be called something similar (bio, the company, meet your expert, experience, who I am, my story, profile, ETC.) and it should be on its own web page on your site
  3. Information about your products, services, or portfolio. Or all three. I have lots to say about portfolios (they drive me crazy…they’re out of date so fast in the freelance fast lane!) but I’ll refrain till further notice. Include as many links as you can to recent work and/or merchandise
  4. Social media icons. Do you have a few favourites? (I know I do.) Link to them and give your avid fans a chance to connect with you
  5. Contact page. Yup. You need to let people know how to get in touch with you. How do you want them to contact you? List that information in a clear and visible manner
  6. Email newsletter signup. Even if you don’t have anything to send, start an email list. Do it. You want to keep in touch with people who want to stay in touch with you
  7. Blog. I mean, I think you should have a blog. But I’ll leave it at the bottom so you know it’s not the first thing you do. Nothing allows your sparkling personality to come through like a blog. I don’t know what it is about the medium, but it WORKS! It serves as your pre-portfolio and helps you improve your writing. Oh, but you do need to keep it updated
  8. Around the Internet I see a lot of advice and tips for author websites but I don't see much out there to help freelance writers. Why oh why are we left out? Don't worry. I'm here to help. Here are seven essential freelance writer website elements. Oh, and three things

    Do you have freelance writer website elements to add? I’d love to hear about them!