Overwhelmed with Details

About a week ago, I finished writing a novel. I participated in a challenge to write a book in one month through a program called “NaNoWriMo“.

I chose to write my book without an outline.

As I spoke with other authors, it was interesting to note that there was a distinct line between those who had an outline, and those who didn’t.

The ones who didn’t have an outline weren’t sure where they were going, were a little nervous, but generally were having fun with the whole process. By about halfway through, most of us knew where the story was going to go and what the goals were, but how we were going to get there was uncertain.

It reminded me a lot of how we educate our kids, and ourselves.

Those who had an outline had an entirely different process and a different experience.

But the consensus among those who had an outline was that the whole process was a lot easier and more enjoyable if they let themselves move away from the outline, and used it only as a guide, not a hard and fast ruler for their writing.

I tried to write an outline for my story, before I wrote it. I found, that once I wrote my outline, I looked at it, and decided I had no more motivation to write it. The creative juices were used in making the outline. And, I didn’t like the fact that I already knew the end of the story.

So I ended up discarding that outline, and starting from scratch, with only a few basic characters, an idea for a setting, and one major problem to start the story off with.

Writing without an outline is scary, but it is the most versatile, flexible and interesting way to write, IMHO. It’s like reading a book while you write a book. And, it allows for really interesting twists and turns to develop that wouldn’t have developed otherwise.

Looking back, I realized that I did have an “outline” for the story that I ended up writing. But the outline was based on general goals, with keywords as the outline’s base. With descriptions as the starting off point. My outline was not the story, but the BASIS for the story. The story took off from there. In my original outline, I had put in details and all the “whats” that I was going to include. That was too much information, and too restrictive. And made the story stale.

Writing a speech is similar. When giving a talk, if I write out all the details of what I want to say, I rely far too much on what my paper says, and not what the audience wants to hear about. Also, when I have those specific words in front of me, I have a hard time letting go of that list. And I can’t think on the fly as easily. The times I’ve done this, my lectures weren’t very good at all.

So, I changed my approach and started writing guidelines, not outlines. I do bring in notes to my talks, but the notes say something like this:


  • Hsing and school = different – how?
  • Curriculum
  • Resources
  • Getting out of the house
  • Relationships
  • Easing into hsing
  • Making goals

This gives me enough information to launch topics, but allows me to go with the flow of the needs of the audience. I usually ask the audience questions and find out what their major concerns are. And I encourage discussion in the middle of my talks, to address their situations. These talks have gone well and I have had people come up to me after the talks thanking me for connecting with them. Having a very rough, flexible and non-specific guideline allowed me to connect to my audience in a way that I couldn’t do when I had far too much detail in it.

As with story outlines and speeches, lesson plans that are too detailed have the same result— they decrease productivity and effectiveness. Detailed lesson plans are a lot of work, for one thing. So it ends up that the lessons are done twice – once during the planning, and once during the teaching. Secondly, when a plan has a lot of detail, it takes away the spontaneity and flexibility of a guidelines.

With a lesson plan, leave things general, let the details do the rest. Lesson plans should take about 20 minutes, at most, to write. That’s it. And I’m talking about a lesson plan for a whole week or month.

Here’s a sample lesson plan:


  • Math
  • English
  • History
  • Museums
  • Crafts fair projects
  • Health
  • Religion
  • Etc.

Then, as the days go along, the details will fill themselves out. It’s not as if you are ignoring the details by doing this. You are waiting until the fruit is ripe before figuring out the details of what to study.

This will reduce the time it takes to do lesson plans, time that you can use to actually do the work with your kids.

Eventually, you can get to the point where you won’t even need to write out a lesson plan anymore. It will be a habit, and you’ll get a “feel” for what you haven’t studied in a while, or of what the kids are really interested in and ready for.

Then, you’ll be writing your own homeschooling story without an outline, having fun, enjoying the story on the way. You’ll be giving your talk while connecting with your audience. You’ll have a flexible, thorough plan, because it covers all the bases, but leaves a ton of flexibility for you all to enjoy the process.

Leave the details out of your outlines. Make them guidelines. Just for a month. See what happens. If you start feeling freaked out, schedule yourself, but not your kids. If your kids start feeling freaked out, let THEM fill in the details. Give it a try. Give yourself a lesson plan vacation. And have fun filling in the story.


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