“Outlining in Reverse”

“I’m writing a first draft and reminding myself that I’m simply shoveling sand into a box so that later I can build castles.”
― Shannon Hale

Read about this technique and how authors (myself included!!) work backwards to hone clarity and focus.

Post a comment (2 sentences minimum) that either:
-Comments on the piece (Can you see yourself using this technique? How might it help? What pitfalls might you face while using it?, etc.)
-Asks an open-ended (level 4) question about something in the text
-Reply to a peer’s comment/question

Blog comment due Tuesday at 7 a.m.; annotations due Tues. or Wed, depending on when I see you next.

Have a peachy weekend!


39 thoughts on ““Outlining in Reverse”

  1. Lindsay McCue, period 6
    These tecniques seem to work well for the author, getting it all out on the page and then going back to spruce it up and make it pretty (or actually make sense). It seems to work well to get the bulk of what you want to say on the paper before it flies out of your brain. Sometimes when you write you can’t just save an idea for later, and doing this helps you to keep the brilliant things coming. Outlining seems to take forever, and honestly sometimes I can’t think of everything I want to put into an essay/piece of writing that early on. Backwards outlines are definitely favored in my book. I know I use this tecnique when I have a take home essay, however I don’t see how this would work with a timed write. Any ideas?

  2. I think you’ve unearthed a limitation of this technique, Lindsay. The only time I used this in a timed writing situation is, at the end of my writing, to take my mini outline and measure what I actually wrote against it–did I did what I said I was going to do? Not quite the same, but helpful nonetheless.

  3. Mariah Johnston
    Period 3.
    I am also curious, along with Lindsay, on using this technique for a timed write. I think when writing with a very short period of time, an quick outline is the best way to go. Using the reverse outline with take home essays, or when writing novels such as Aaron Hamburger (great last name!) described, is more useful.
    I think I use this technique while writing take home essays, and just don’t realize it. I don’t leave blank spaces in my work though. I feel like I’ll loose my train of thought and forget the ideas I was trying to illustrate. I feel like this technique would only work for the writers who can instantly move their thoughts from mind to paper. And I am not one of those writers.

  4. I can’t see myself doing this, I have a difficult time getting anything on a paper without a decent outline, I can never settle on anything and second guess myself and always seem to leave out something important. Having an outline forces my indecisive brain to follow a path. Perhaps though when it comes to the more detailed portions of writing I could be more open to not planning, leaving a few blank spots and filling them in and changing them around later. I am however found of the idea of using mathematical writing to judge the value of characters and settings and plots and time flow.

    • Brandi, I think I identify with you the most. Math is basically my life, and thinking of everyday tasks as simple as vacuuming in a mathematical way just causes everything to click better, so I think I would find it exceptionally helpful to think of writing that way. I usually cannot force myself to start writing without a reasonably developed outline. I use the technique a little bit already by starting my conclusion in my outline off with “in conclusion” because otherwise, my mind still wants to continue going on and on, developing new ideas, and they aren’t always good. I think I SHOULD try to force myself to do this technique more often, like you said, in the more detailed parts and then go back and fill them in, in order to save time and prevent me from getting too obsessed over small details and overly perfectionistic about choosing the right adjectives. But, like you said, I tend to also leave out important details if I don’t get them all down on paper. Perhaps what we need to do is just develop a happy medium where we just jot down abbreviated or shortened versions of what we want to discuss with just enough detail included in order for us to be able to draw from it effectively enough to craft excellent papers without leaving out important factors or spending too much time in one spot.
      Bridgette Petzoldt
      Period 3

  5. Claire Coalwell, Period 6
    I think this is a great technique to use because as it says in the article, it helps you focus on the main parts of the essay first and to locate the “flab” in the work. I can see myself using this but I agree in a timed write this could get complicated. I feel that this technique would be tricky at first but a good strategy to use. I also liked the idea of the plot calender because the writer can see where they lack or where they are doing well in.

  6. I outline often when writing fiction, but I normally can’t stand it in formal writing. Mostly because when I do outline (in either case) I almost never stick to it. Stories often go in the same direction no matter what, but how and when I get there is flexible. I prefer to just write most of the time, anyway. Good stuff can appear out of nowhere.

  7. I think this technique works well with some writers, and not so well with others. I know I wouldn’t be able to toss ideas onto the paper and then go back and smooth them out; I use an outline as my idea generator. Once I have my outline, I have a rough idea of what I’m going to talk about and can add in information and ideas that actually make sense. If I tried to reverse outline in the same way as Aaron Hamburger, I’d either have no ideas to elaborate on, or it’d be complete chaos and everything would be irrelevant. As irrelevant as an elephant stuck in an air vent. Chaos. But that’s just me, maybe it’d work a lot better for others, it obviously works for Aaron Hamburger.

  8. I do this all the time. I write furiously and leave blank spots where I cannot find the words. However, I find it hard to not to have some sort of mental outline. When I read a prompt my brain is drawing a path to how I should approach my response. By simply writing and not necessarily thinking about it…it is too chaotic for me..

    • My brain works alot like tif’s when it comes to timed writes. I am already thinking of my examples and subtopics that will weave together the blanket that is my essay as I am reading the prompt. To begin an essay without an outline in the madness of a timed write isn’t for me. However, in a take home essay I can see this technique being very useful as a self-check to keep me on track in essay say five pages long or so.;)

  9. Isaac Swenson, 6th Period
    I usually write a bit of an outline, but mostly just write without much planning and try to think how I want each sentence to lead to the following sentence/idea. However, I think you could use this technique of reverse outlining for timed writes by writing an outline following the technique we learned at the beginning of the year (a box for the thesis, three boxes for subclaims, three divided boxes for details on the subclaims, and a box for the conclusion) which would serve as a first draft. Use this outline to basically get any main ideas down; use it the way Aaron Hamburger uses his first outline. You can add in raw ideas that come to you suddenly that you want to include in the the margins. Then, based off this outline, you would write another, more streamlined outline which it what you will actually base your essay off of. This allows you to eliminate “fluff” ideas and only use ideas that are necessary, saving time when actually writing the essay. Then, based off the second outline, you would write your final essay.

  10. I think reverse outlining is a good technique for my to try and incorporate into my writing. Whenever i have a take home essay I usually jump onto the computer and start typing the first thing that comes to my mind. So my writing tends to be a little chaotic. But I think if i take Aaron Hamburger’s advice and create a plot calender, i will be able to organize my thoughts better and my essay will flow smoother. And see which part of my essay lacks and which part has too much.

  11. I think this strategy has several pros and cons. For myself, I am a scattered thinker and need, at the very least, a basic outline for my random ideas. I’m not the type of writer that can lay out all their ideas then organize; I need a plan before I start. I do like the idea though of reorganizing ideas after doing a rough draft. Usually when I’m writing my ideas sound better in my head than they do on the paper, so post editing and refining works very well for me.

  12. Period 3, Freddy Lienhard
    Not to be a complete follower, but like Lindsay and Mariah, timed writes were running through my head whilst reading this article, as well. But I also feel as though, for myself, I am deprived of adequate time to complete my essays due to the ten minute outline at the beginning we mustdo. So I feel that would be a “pitfall” of my own, is time management. I feel as though I develop my entire essay’s worth and ideas while I write my intro. Dangerous, stupid, and a terrible management of time as this may be, it’s true. My question about the text is how exactly does this benefit a novel? I feel as though you don’t want superfluous information, but you want to make sure you have details when writing a novel or story.

  13. Aidan Ristow Period 3
    Using this technique would be very useful, but I think on a take home essay or an essay/piece of writing where you have lots of time to think about it and really fill in the cracks. Using it on an in-class writing could be a waste of time. I want to try to use it and it seems very helpful. I think I could benefit from it because I like to just put down my thoughts and then from there I could organize it, so I could say what I wanted to and build it from there!

  14. Shelbey Carlson Period 3
    I have never really thought about this technique before, but I have already used it in many take home essays in the past. It is interesting how often one misses the holes in a piece of writing. With the “reverse outline,” those holes can be fixed after the essay. The “reverse outline” seems like a very effective editing tool, but, like Freddy and many others have mentioned, should not be used in essays such as timed writes. The time and care that the outline will take should only be used when someone has more time.

  15. For me, I can maybe see myself doing this. Not on timed writes, because I have a hard enough time as it is filling in everything I want to say in the time allotted.
    The one place where I could see this being useful is in a formal, graded take home essay. The kind of essay where you have to put effort into keeping yourself focused. This is so I won’t get totally sidetracked and talk about something I never even needed to talk about. Kind of a self-check.
    However, if it is anything creative, I don’t think I would do this because it would impede my creative process.

  16. Charlie Rutherford period 6
    Personally I actually kinda use this. I write based on an outline first though, then I go back and edit, not just for grammar, but also for my ideas. It helps me to follow my thesis. I used it in the SAT, because I didn’t have room for an outline. It was not as good as my timed writes, but going back helped the writing become much better.

  17. I feel like the only way to use this in a timed write would be filling in blanks in word choice or adding in punctuation. I believe that this would be extremely helpful in take home writing if you came back to your piece after a few days, to reassure the structure and clarity of your paper. I know I will use this technique in the future. I think I will make it my own though and adjust each time I edit to account for my weaknesses changing.
    Madeline Friend period 3

    • “…if you came back to your piece after a few days…” YES!! Maddy, this is an often overlooked step, this whole stepping away from and forgetting about thing. Perhaps procrastination has something to do with it?

  18. Shannon Jack
    Period 6
    In this article, I particularly liked how Mr. Hamburger took the reader with him and showed them how his different outlining techniques changed within time. It takes awhile and multiple trials with writing to figure out which style is right for each person. On the topic of timed writes (since that is the hot gossip). I find myself using more of an inbetween-outline as opposed to reverse outline. Like Ms. Kitchens always reminds us to do, I go back to the thesis to make sure I am sticking o the prompt and staying on track. By answering how and why, I create a mini-outline for myself in order to save time.

  19. Miguel Moser, Period 3.
    I have always hated outlines. I know I am not the only one but I am a math guy and anybody that knows me knows that I prefer mental math to writing down the work; this also applies to my writing. I do a rough mental outline without every writing or drawing out what I plan on writing about. I am so looking forward to trying this technique. I agree with Kyle in that this could be very useful for a take home essay. I always have my parents proofread my essay to make sure it is at least somewhat organized before doing all the revisions myself but I feel that this technique could help me even more. I am going to put this tactic to work in our next essay on The Tortilla Curtain and I also plan on trying it for the SAT, Charlie mentioned. Thank you for showing us this Ms. Kitchens!

  20. I have always used outlines in the beginning of my writing to cultivate and shepherd my ideas. This article casts light on a different technique that seems actually very useful. Applying an outline after compiling one’s first draft of writing seems unnecessary, but after reading through Hamburger’s reasons for “reverse outlining,” has me intrigued. Although for me, on an in-class essay this technique would not work because I like my ideas organized right there in front of me.This approach would best be manipulated in a take home essay because of the time one has to check back on what one has written and get rid of “flab”. I am excited to step out of my comfort zone and try “reverse outlining” in our upcoming essay.

  21. The idea of reverse outlining is interesting, although I don’t actually use it. To me, writing is kind of like a sequence of events and an outline limits the places my writing could explore. However, if I were to use this strategy, I would definitely use it on a take home essay and not a timed write.

  22. Rachel Olson
    Period 6
    As many others seem to have already said, I can see myself using this technique in take home essays but not so much in timed writes. I find myself to be more relaxed when I have an outline for timed writes. With one, I know that all my ideas will be written on the paper before I start. I get stressed when I do not know where my writing is going, so I like to have a clear path. I plan on playing with this idea on my next take home essay though!

  23. Timmy Moser

    Figuring out what i want to say is always my main struggle when it comes to writing, and often after I complete this stuggle, I do not know how I want to orrganize my work. Having said this, I am always open to new ideas about outlines, and how people plan out their writing. I can see myself trying this method out, but definetley not on a timed write. Maybe on a take home essay like Hector, and many others, said.

  24. First of all, this is the hungriest I’ve ever been while reading an article, thanks a lot mister juicy Hamburger. Now down to business: I don’t think I could ever use this technique. I used to hate outlines, i wrote like Michael, the only outline I ever wanted to use was mental. Problem is i never bothered to make a mental outline either. This negatively affected my writing as far back as Mr. Dorman’s class. My writing was extremely sporadic–however well developed it was in my head, I jumped around way too much as I thought of that great new point. Kitchens’ forcing us to write an outline focused my writing exponentially. I would be willing to try reverse outlining on a take home essay, but I don’t see myself taking the extra time (I barely find enough as is, I just don’t know where it goes) to stray away from a working formula on a take home essay, much less an in class essay. At least not while a grade is at stake.

  25. This technique is something I can see myself using mostly on a take home essay because I know that during a timed write I am more focused on getting my thoughts down and anytime I would have left over I need to focus on word choice or details rather than organization. I find this to be a very realistic editing technique because when I read my rough draft I can write my second outline of what I have and then fill in he blanks of what I need. It is an efficient way to sift through my already developed ideas and focus on the ones that really need the help.

  26. This technique seems like it would come in handy for an experienced writer. Knowing that I’m not a very experienced writer I would be willing to use this technique on a take home essay. The reason I would not like to use this technique on a timed writing be because of the lack of time. The main thing I like about this technique is how one, as the writer, can easily jot down his/her ideas into simpler phrases and then mentally organize them.

  27. Brianna Giddings
    Period 6
    I can see myself doing this, but not in a timed writing situation. I have a bad habit of writing till we are almost completely out of time so I barley have enough time to go back and edit, let alone do a reverse outline. I can see this working for some people who stay on track well, but for me who tends to get off track somewhat easily when it comes to free- writing it probably would only hinder me.

  28. Annalise Dillon period 6
    I’ve never used this technique before. I go back and revise my work of course, but I don’t do the math part. It’d be interesting to find out about my writing. I don’t do much out of class writing though so finding a time to try it out would be difficult…

  29. This technique is different from what I have learned before. The part about math helping with writing was understandable for me. Though using this style of writing will be hard to change from what the education system has tried to teach me.

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