Why I Find it Difficult to Finish Projects After Outlining Them

The story’s already been told — at least in my eyes.

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For me, outlining is the most fun part of the creative process. After the initial rush of coming up with an idea, the outlining phase is when you really figure out what your main points or arguments are and find a logical way to weave them all together.

It’s the construction of a framework for the story, putting you in the spot of an archaeologist taking individual bones and forming a skeleton. I really enjoy it, probably because I love puzzles, and I see outlining like solving a puzzle.

But after the outline is finished, I often run into trouble in actually completing the project, whether it’s an article, essay, or another type of creative work. For example, I’m currently working (and I say that in the loosest sense of the word) on an audio documentary — basically a story in podcast form.

All the research and outlining have been done for months(!), but I’ve still barely made any headway on the script. I put my heart and soul into preparing this project, and now that it’s time to finally make it happen, I seem to want no part in making it a reality.

It’s frustrating, but I think I’ve figured out the reason why. In my mind, once the outlining is complete, I can visualize the finished project. Since I know what it will look like, it feels finished to me.

If it’s a personal topic — something I just needed to put on paper — I’ve accomplished that. If it’s a cool topic I wanted to research, I’ve done the research. If it’s a persuasive argument, I know what I would say. There’s nothing more for me to personally gain outside of sharing it with others.

Because let’s be honest — actually writing is where all the hard work happens. Achieving a shareable, publishable end product requires spending the time to elaborate on everything in an interesting and captivating way. It’s toiling over word choice. It’s proofreading and revising. Unless you happen to come up with a genius sentence, nothing about this is fun.

And by this time, the initial thrill of the idea is often gone. My mind’s off to something else. Something newer and cooler. A different idea to pursue. It leaves me with a ton of drafts and notes, and without nearly as much to show for it in terms of published work.

Maybe this is called laziness. Some people would certainly see it this way, although I’d disagree. I’m always thinking about different things to create, but especially for the bigger projects, it’s difficult for any single thing to hold my attention long enough to finish it.

That’s a problem, and it’s going to take a concerted effort to change these bad habits. So I’m putting my foot down. This week, the script for my documentary will be finished, no questions asked. After all, if I care enough about something to spend time researching it and developing an outline, it deserves to be finished, and the world deserves to see it.

Nothing worth doing is easy.

Sportswriter. Medill graduate student. Host of the Slept On Sports podcast. Relentlessly curious. My book: .

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