By Kaitlin Fitzsimons
In the New York Times Draft piece, “Outlining in Reverse,” Aaron Hamburger explains how he edits his work by ‘outlining’ what he’s already written. This approach helps guarantee that each paragraph is in support of the main idea of his story, and any superfluous material is later cut. Hamburger says, “I’ve come to prefer a more organic approach to creation, first laying out my raw material on the page, then searching for possible patterns that might emerge. But now, after I’ve completed a first draft, I compose an outline.” Hamburger points out that he is not the only writer to use reverse outlining, mentioning the helpful reverse outlining resources through the Amherst College website and Purdue Online Writing Lab.
Reverse outlining is in keeping with the outlining section of the SNL Writing Guide, which states, “As you begin writing, your understanding of the topic will grow and change. Allow your new realizations to inform your writing...” Writing first and organizing later allows a writer to capture all of his or her ideas on paper without getting bogged down by structural or mechanical considerations. If one or two ideas are found to be superfluous or don’t “fit” within the piece, a writer may wish to save those bits of brilliance for another, more appropriate piece.