I grew up in the hay-day of outlining. Everything I ever had to turn in had to have a formal outline before it would be accepted. I’m not sure what the point of this exercise was, other than (I think) the teachers were taught to teach us this stuff and that is what the followed.
So… I handed in outlines before I handed in papers. NOT before I wrote the papers, I always wrote them first so I would know what would need to go into the outline; before I handed in the papers. It always meant three times the work in a very short amount of time, because I wanted the outline to be very true to the final product. I would write, proofread, and edit the final paper before I ever started the outline.
This was well before either word processors or computers. I always did this either long hand or on a typewriter. We didn’t have a typewriter at home, not one that worked without the keys sticking, so I would have to go to the library every study hall (back when we had those, too) and use the ones in there to try to hurry the work done. It was always an adventure.
But the outline would be true to the paper and the paper would be true to the outline.
I don’t do that now. It seems like too much work to do before I start a really big writing project, to write it first so I can outline it and write it. I don’t just write all willy-nilly, though. I usually start with at least a rough idea of what I want to accomplish in the end and a pretty good idea about how I want to get there. I spend a great deal of time working it through in my head. And on “paper” (either the digital version in my geek toys or the analog version that you need a pen or pencil to deal with) I draw it all out in a mind map.
I’m a very visual person, and very much not linear in my thinking. Mind mapping is a way of outlining that leverages visual thinking over linear thinking. I found some great examples here
from the simple
to the ornate
(oringinal here http://www.mindtools.com/media/Diagrams/mindmap.jpg)
They are as flexible and personal as you want them to be. They are as simple or as elaborate as you want them to be. They are yours. All yours. They can reflect the work you have in flight or just reflect what you are thinking. And the best part of them? There are no hard and fast rules! You can expand them, or delete from there whenever you need to. They are a visual reminder of what you have in your head. Not just for your writing (although that is what I use them most for) but for whatever you want to dream out. It can help you remember where you were and follow your own rabbit trail.
Google them. Embrace them as your friend.
While they are not for everybody, they can be an invaluable tool in your arsenal!
Do you mind map?