Do this to give your writing good bones

Ever read something that took your breath away?

Maggie Smith’s poem “Good Bones” was one of those things, for me. When I first found it in 2016, my now 11 y/o son was much younger.

My career felt stuck and stagnant, no longer on the verge of promotion but somehow receding from it—despite all my efforts.

We faced expensive home repairs that loomed at the edges of every week.

It was just . . . one of those times, you know?

Then, scrolling Twitter one day, I saw it. I’d never heard of Maggie Smith before, and her words just reached through the screen and shook me.

You could make this place beautiful.

It changed my day. My outlook. Along with Mary Oliver’s “Wild Geese” it’s one of a handful of poems that I think about often.

I love it because it makes me think of possibility.

So much comes back to the idea of good bones.

Good writing certainly starts with good bones, though I had to make myself admit it in the course of my writing journey this year. I had to get real with myself that:

good outlines = good bones.

It all starts there.

As an online writer, you have 3 main jobs:

  1. Get readers to click your title

  2. Get them to read your first line

  3. Get them to read three paragraphs

Why three paragraphs? Because if you can hold them that long, they’re more likely to read your whole article. This means two things are critical:

  • Titles

  • Outlines

Now, titles are a huge topic all on their own. They’ve been one of my biggest learnings in the last 7 months, and merit their own writeup to share what’s worked. Find that here:

But outlines? They’re your BONES.

They support the weight of your ideas and make sure your writing stands upright—instead of falling over (or collapsing into goo).

I used to resist outlining because it’s boring.

And it’s work.

But good outlines = good bones = good writing.

Here are 3 basic outlines you can use—with examples linked in each title—that I work with. You can easily adjust them depending on your piece:

✏️ Listicle

  • BIG IDEA: always start your outline with this

  • Hook: curiosity or a hinted benefit works well here.

  • Intro: why does this list matter to your reader? What will they learn, how will they benefit?

  • Section / Point

  • Section / Point

  • Section / Point

  • (repeat sections as needed)

  • Close: remind of the benefit / drive your main point home (without repeating yourself).


  • Hook: consider a bold or direct statement, or a question

  • Intro: set up what it is you’re challenging and why—what happens when you think that way? (create tension)

  • Section: outline the problem with what you’re challenging, what changed your mind?

  • Section: evidence

  • Section: evidence

  • Section: evidence

  • Close: remind of the benefits of your POV for the reader, what they could do to get those same benefits. End w/ challenge or curiosity.


  • Hook: consider starting with a curious detail, or in the middle of a moment or scene

  • Intro: set the stage, and create tension and curiosity about what happens and why you’re sharing this

  • Scene 1

  • Scene 2

  • Scene 3

  • Note: scenes don’t have to be in chronological order

  • Close: remind people why it matters, and close by making the lesson in the story a universal one—make it about them.

  • 5 questions for endless content (3 min read)

  • Outlining a big idea can feel hard, but easy has a cost

  • So much about the writing you could do isn’t doing big things. It’s this.

  • If you don’t feel this sometimes about writing, we can’t be friends.

One sign that you’re suited for some kind of work is when you like even the parts other people find tedious.

Paul Graham

🧠 and ❤️