Studio Musings

Thursday, May 14, 2015

Lessons Learned: Brainstorming and Outlines

I’m a little behind on everything right now.  Last week I took a nosedive down my basement stairs and am still dealing with the repercussions.  Teach me to try to do laundry!

This week, while waiting to determine if I need surgery on my broken foot, my thoughts keep turning to the importance of planning and organization.  Outlining is the first, and one of the most important steps in developing a manuscript.  Outlines help you define both the scope of work (which can also be summarized as your mission statement) and the breadth that you wish to cover.  If you hope to approach a traditional publisher with your book idea, most will expect to see a polished outline. 

Start by giving yourself a one-sentence mission statement outlining your goal.  Then brainstorm, writing down everything you think you might want to include.  You can do this in as much or as little detail as you please.  Once you have your ideas down where you can see them, look for common patterns and themes.  Does one idea build upon another?  Treat your notes as pieces of an ever-expanding puzzle and move things around until they 'fit'.  Your goal is to start sorting like with like to see how the pieces might all work together as a future whole. 

My first mission statement for Explorations went something like this:  “I want to showcase the breadth of what can be done with freeform peyote beading”.   Pretty basic and far too open-ended, but it was a place to start.  From there, I asked myself, what could that look like?   My earliest outline only had a few points:
  • Showcase the breadth of what might be done with Freeform Peyote Beading
  • Basic to advanced techniques
  • More in-depth primer to the creation process
  • New projects
  • More projects
  • Not all jewelry
  • Include works by other artists

My next goal was to fill things in the who, what, how, why, where and when.  What techniques did I want to include, what did people need to be successful with the stitch, what types of projects, what work did I already have completed, what would I need to create, how would other artists and their work fit into the overall theme of the book?  As I answered these questions, I arranged and rearranged the pieces until they started to form an overall picture.  Some bullet points translated into chapters and sections of my manuscript.  Others simply helped illuminate or better define the overall project.  

My Four Rules of Outlines: 

I.  Outlines can be as simple or as complex as you desire.  In the early stages of my book planning, I had very clear ideas of what I wanted to include in some areas.  I made extensive notes as ideas came to me, including full paragraphs where necessary.  It’s easy to forget things over the weeks, months and even years it takes to turn an idea into a finished book. If you think it might possibly be important later, write it down somewhere that it’s easy to find (so you don’t kick yourself later as you wrack your brain trying to remember that great idea you once had!) 

II. Outlines are never set in stone.   Consider your outline a living document that will continue to change and evolve along with you and your manuscript. 

I originally divided Explorations into five chapters with these headings: 
  1. Getting Started
  2. Starting Small - Test Subjects & Little Beauties
  3. Bracelets and Cuffs
  4. Designing Larger Jewelry Projects
  5. Beyond Jewelry - Beaded Forms and Freeform Sculptures
I liked how this outline built from simpler to more complex projects.  But I couldn’t find a good place for an in-depth look at creating freeform ruffles.  This is a very powerful technique, but because it’s more advanced I didn’t want to include it in Chapter 1.   Ruffles use the basic technique in different ways, with their own distinct challenges and rewards.  After much thought, I repurposed Chapter 3.  The new chapter, Working with Ruffles, became a bridge between the simpler projects of Chapter 2, and the larger, more complex designs in the later chapters.

Rather than dividing my book solely by project types, it’s organized more by building skills and how I thought about the creation process surrounding each item.  Smaller projects like rings require significantly less planning and forethought than a freeform collar or beaded bottle.   My final outline doesn’t look that different, but represents a shift in my thought process. 

III. Outlines keep you focused.  It’s surprisingly easy to get lost and wander off on random tangents when working on a long project.  The ‘wouldn’t it be cool to include X’ factor.  I use my outline to keep me focused by periodically pausing to see how and where my current work fits into the overall whole.  If it doesn’t fit in my current outline, then I force myself to pause and ask if truly fits into my current manuscript, or if it should be set aside for a future project. 

IV. Outlines help you track your progress. I’ll talk about developing your production timeline in more detail in a later post, but your outline is an excellent way to track how well you are progressing towards your goal. 

As an example, say you’ve given yourself a twelve-month timeline to develop your manuscript.  Let’s also say your outline is divided into five chapters.  Here’s a sample timeline:  one month for outlining/gathering data, and building your style-guides and templates; two months per chapter (5 chapters x 2 months = 10 months); and another month for proofing at the end.  This is a tight production schedule, but it shows how the outline might be divided into a timeline.

In Summary

Outlines are living documents, not stone tablets.  Whether simple or complex, their role is to act as goal posts and guides.  If you've used outlines - what other ways have they helped you? 

While you work on your outline, you should also brainstorm ideas about the overall look and feel of your finished book, things you need to learn, and resources you could potentially tap to help you along the way.  In my next few posts, I’ll talk more about these topics, including how I collected and organized my data for ease of use, setting up a more concrete timeline, and establishing style-guides for my finished book. 


  1. Google ate my comment! Let me try again.

    I hope you heal soon without the need for surgery. Falls can be scary and a huge health challenge. I also hope that you have plenty of beads to work with as you heal, a project that you just have not had the time to tackle, and maybe a TeeVee show or a few movies to binge watch.

    Organization is important for any endeavor- thanks for sharing your tips.

    1. Thanks KJ! My orthopedist appointment yesterday afternoon was really positive. They took new xrays and it's looking like I might not need surgery. I've apparently been a model patient and haven't done any additional damage in the past week.

      I'm hoping to get some beading in, but my hands still aren't quite up to holding a needle yet. (The crutches are definitely strengthening my arms, but my hands are still adjusting to the usage.)

  2. Oh, honey! (When I read about your fall, my southern grandma's voice and her typical reaction to any calamity popped into my head). I'm so sorry to hear about this, and hope you're continuing to heal quickly. I can empathize, having fallen *up* the stairs in the subway twice over the past few months. Falling down stairs is terrifying and dreadful. Falling up stairs is just flat out clumsy and ridiculous.

    Hope you're back up and dancing around your bead room soon!