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The 5 Minute Nonfiction Outline 

because getting out of your head

is the best way

to get words out of your head.

New folks: please be patient while I migrate this out of Thinkific and into the Client Vault. 


Books don't have to be overwhelming to write.

No, I'm serious.

It's hard. I'm not ​going to pretend it isn't. 


Especially for my niche—professionals instead of writers, crafting something that's deeply connected to their reputation and their audience's needs—there's a lot riding on a book.

Throw a timeline or goal attachment in the mix and it's a recipe for existential panic, shame, stress, and no clear access to the words you want to say, in the order you want to say them in. 


But we don't have to make it any bigger than it is. 

If you're staring down a project 
wondering if it'll ever get done...
Or if you're holding onto an idea,
wondering if it's 
good enough
clear enough
Big enough...

Let's take 5 minutes.

I promise it's enough to get started.

This is the part of the copy where I am supposed to sell you a key.

A magic solution.

An offer you can't refuse.

I'd rather just...give you that thing.
Can we? Sans selling?

The whole 5 minute outline process is already available, in nerdy Story Grid blog post form, totally free.

One article, that I wrote on a whim and some curiosity, has been unlocking content for people for years. Start here to see if it's a tool you can use.

Know what the 5 Minute Outline is and just need some support executing? Skip to the end for guided recordings for each step of the process. Or keep reading to learn more.

Here's what the post didn't get into:

In the time since I paused to name how I was getting ghostwriting clients to deliver a chapter outline and then the content for it on one- or two-hour calls, my clients, colleagues, and writing partners and I have realized the 5 Minute Outline process is not just for nonfiction books.


Setting a container to brainstorm just your idea—separate from all of the baggage we carry into content creation—is useful for proposals, speeches, assignments, posts, courses, copy, business plans, life plans, and fiction of all kinds.


There's some kind of magic in it, and my working theory about it looks like this:


Anything tied to structure, time, and outcome is susceptible to fear. 

And fear is not conducive to free-flowing creativity. 


I realize that's a whole existential thing, but let's look at outlining (structure) your book (outcome) to hit a goal (time).


You might land in one of these camps:








For a long time, I took all those statements at face value.


They aren't always wrong, after all—your thinking and creating style absolutely matters. 

But look deeper:

  • I hate outlines because writing comes pretty quickly to me without them, and my editors or readers are fine with what emerges.

    • vs. I hate outlines and think it's a waste of time to even try—I'll say what I want to say or not say it at all!

  • I don't know how to outline but I'm working on ways to make my writing clearer and easier to write.

    • vs. I don't know how to outline (or write!) and am too busy / not smart enough / not focused enough to learn, so I'll hire out or just make writing a lower priority.

  • I am still refining my story, but I see forward progress and am happy to let it unfold.

    • vs. I am still refining my story because I can't release it—or even release myself to write from the outline!—until it's perfect. 


In other words, if you're writing as much as you want to, saying what you want to say, in a way that reaches the people you want to reach—you've probably got this figured out and don't need this tool. For the rest of us...



The 5 Minute Outline works because it keeps you in the present.

There's no time to worry about outcomes.

There's enough structure that you don't have to worry about what "works."

And there's no one (but you) who can make you wrong.


I hate outlines.

Deadlines crush creativity.

Outlines are too restrictive.

I'm just not ready.


I don't know how.

I prefer to flow.

I hire out my [book structure, blog, newsletters, content].

Freeze/ Fawn

I am still refining. 

It has to be good or it doesn't matter.

What's Keeping Us from Writing?

It isn't time alone that makes writing hard, or ghosting and coaching calls wouldn't work. The pressure of accountability and limitations can be a good thing, in the right spaces. In fact...


A good relationship with time looks a lot like flow.


Structure isn't the enemy, either. Half of my work as a developmental editor is naming where someone's content is already effective so they can level up the direction they were already moving toward. Even learning the basics can unlock so much.

A good handle on structure gives the editor in your brain a lollipop so the creative genius can roam free.

And anyway, writing is just good communication. It's only a waste of time to learn how to communicate effectively (aka, to write effectively) if we're not using it to communicate (aka, to write). 

Oh, writing. The misunderstood troll under every professional's bridge to success.


So much fear lives here, because there's a lot of potential (good and bad and unknown) wrapped up in unrealized outcomes. In this case, the outcome is having written, which first requires writing, and writing feels like another career or an anti-career. Something else you have to learn and devote time to, for what? To shed more light on the thing you actually want to learn and devote time to? 

Can we release some of that pressure? Here's my take:

You don't have to be a writer to write. Books included.

  • If you want to "have written"

  • If you are making meaning out of an experience

  • If you are documenting and relaying a process

  • If you are analyzing a phenomenon...


If you are gathering up knowledge and wisdom into a format that someone else can consume and integrate, you are a writer.

You don't have to believe it every day.


You don't have to prove it all the time.​ 


Just set aside a 5 minute container of presence to focus on the two most important pieces of your work:


What you want to say, and how you want it to be heard.


Now it's definitely time for the magic-pill-solution-key.


It's to just...not.



Whatever it is you think you're supposed to do to outline, edit, or flow mean nothing if you're not actually accessing it.

You need a whole new frame on time, structure, and how you show up to both as the brilliant meaning maker you are.

And it's got to feel way less intense than...::waves hand around at everything.::

I have no interest in making another writing method that reinvents broken wheels. I don't want to be "the new" anyone. But when I looked closely at those ghostwriting calls to name what worked so well about them, it wasn't about adding or releasing pressure to ship or convincing a pantser to plot or teaching a non-writer to write. Sometimes those things happened, but that wasn't the magic. 

We had simply set a container for our work that left absolutely no room for fear of the unknown.

Get present and play. That's it.


The constraints of time kept us from spinning out, the foundation of storytelling principles kept us focused, and the creative safety of our thought partnership freed the author to say what they wanted to say.

I don't want to confine that kind of magic to 1:1 calls. 

And as soon as the 5MO method went live and people started sharing it, I knew we wouldn't have to.

When time and structure are your allies, they show you
what you don't (consciously) know about your content.

The thing is, you already know what to say.

Even if it's unconscious competence.
Even if you're 
"not a writer" or are just starting out.
Especially if the content "matters too much" to get wrong.

The 5 Minute Outline

Below, you'll see guided recordings for each step that I walk clients through to execute a 5 minute outline. They're almost meditative in nature, meant to support you as you work through the step on your own. For more context or support, hit the chat button or let's hop on a call!

The Foundation

What does Big Idea nonfiction—well-rounded content that invites readers to a new way of thinking, being, or doing—teach us about any form of writing? How can we use those principles to set up our outline for success?


Write WHAT, Exactly? 

Author / Reader Access Points

Narrowing the Big Idea

Trusting the Story

5 Minutes to Prep
00:00 / 05:11

Spend 5 minutes getting into the right headspace to outline—thinking about what kind of content you're writing, who you're writing to, and how you'll show up to it.

When to listen: you want to wrap your head around a writing project of any kind, you have an idea of the 5 Minute Outline in theory, you have a pencil and paper on hand, and you can take 5 minutes to be reflective.

 The 5 Minute Outline

A deep dive into the reasoning behind, uses for, and common hangups within each minute of the 5 Minute Outline, alongside variations you might use and a running example from How to Win Friends and Influence People.

Minute 1: What's the Key Takeaway?

00:00 / 01:13

On a piece of paper marked 1–5, write your answers to this one-minute meditative prompt next to number 3. 

Minute 2: Why Do We Care?

00:00 / 01:07

On a piece of paper marked 1–5, write your answers to this one-minute meditative prompt next to number 1. 

Minute 3: Why Do We Resist?

00:00 / 01:21

On a piece of paper marked 1–5, write your answers to this one-minute meditative prompt next to number 2. 

Minute 4: What Makes Us Believe?

00:00 / 01:15

On a piece of paper marked 1–5, write your answers to this one-minute meditative prompt next to number 4. 

Minute 5: What's the Big Invitation?

00:00 / 01:19

On a piece of paper marked 1–5, write your answers to this one-minute meditative prompt next to number 3. 

The 5MO Practice

Once you have a 5MO, what do you do with it? Best practices for writing and revising without losing your mind, your confidence, or the thread of your message.

What Now?

When and How to Write from a 5MO

5 Minutes to Reflect before Drafting
00:00 / 05:13

Spend 5 minutes reflecting on what you've outlined—how to convert it to an outline method you enjoy, or to begin free writing without losing the flow you've unlocked.

When to listen: you've worked through the 5MO and you're not sure where to go next.

What Have I Done?

How to Make Sense of Your Draft

5 Minutes to Plan Revisions from a 5MO
00:00 / 05:31

Spend 5 minutes reflecting on what you've drafted—use a 5MO perspective to check in with yourself on any new insights, analyze what you've written, and map out potential revision options.

When to listen: you're familiar with the 5MO and have a piece of content to revise. 

Outlines in the Wild

A closer look at world-changing books from each angle of their Big Idea to see if the 5MO can be spotted in finished works—from messy hypothesis, to revision path, to final product. (Spoiler: It can!)

Big Transformation: 4-Hour Workweek 

Big Breakthrough: Silent Spring

Big Experience: The Fire Next Time

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