For Bishop, an outline is a map to a good story

After Greg Bishop finishes reporting, and before he starts drafting, the Sports Illustrated football writer does this…


Greg Bishop’s outline map from his story on Aaron Rodgers.  (Courtesy of Adam Duerson)

<— If the notebook looks like the work of a Beautiful Mind, well, it is mathematical in a way. It’s Bishop’s formula for magazine-length features. He calls it “pre-outlining.”

To gather his thoughts to write a story with arc, Bishop goes through a now-trusty process, which includes an entire day spent outlining.

For his most recent magazine piece on Aaron Rodgers, Bishop conducted 30 interviews and accumulated 83 pages of notes and transcriptions. He read through those notes and organized them into themes, which you can see on the notepad

There was a theme on Rodgers’ privacy, one on his training regimen. One on his evolution, and another on the skills that makes him such a good player.

This process helps Bishop connect the dots for a larger picture of an athlete like Rodgers, who’s received plenty of media attention in his career.

“If the page is pretty blank, you’re in trouble,” Bishop said.

Bishop’s, clearly, is plenty full. It doesn’t always work out this way, but the themes on the notepad eventually became sections of his story.

For Bishop, after outlining, the writing process takes half the time it used to for him because he’s so prepared when it comes to actually typing out the story.

After graduating from Syracuse in 2002, Bishop worked at the Seattle Times for five years.

Bishop didn’t outline early in his career. He said he used more flowery language “that covered up some pretty serious deficiencies” in storytelling.

When he took a job at the New York Times, he knew he needed to step up as a writer.

“I can’t believe I actually had like a five-year career where I didn’t outline,” said Bishop, who’s been at Sports Illustrated close to two years. “It sounds almost reckless to me now. I think it’s the most important thing I do; everything else follows it. It becomes more like a mathematical kind of thing, rather than ‘I’m a writer and I’m going to pull my hair out for eight hours.’”

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