Most people, at one time or another have thought, "I'd like to write a book about that." This is the year to get those ideas out of your head and onto paper. As a non-fiction writer, I use an outlining process.
Most people, at one time or another have thought, "I'd like to write a book about that." This is the year to get those ideas out of your head and onto paper. As a non-fiction writer, I use an outlining process. No single writing process will work for everyone, but if you are struggling to write the outline for the book rattling around in your head, this may help you to get started.
Presuming you have your topic and the expertise to write about a topic — even if additional research is required — you can follow this simple process to organize your writing:
: Begin writing down topics that could be chapters, or key topics within a chapter. Consider the following questions to help you identify these topics:
Why would someone want to read a book about this topic?
What is my “take” on the topic?
What are the first things that someone needs to understand about this topic?
What are the most important things for someone to know about this topic?
What is the point of the book?
What do you hope someone will do differently as a result of reading the book?
What are the struggles that readers face that you want to relate to in the book?
: Some of what you have written down as a result of this exercise may not make sense. Clean it up. Prepare a simple list of all of the topics. Make sure that each topic description is complete enough to make sense to you.
: As you look at the topics, you may recognize logical flow. One idea is a subset of another. In another case, you may identify one topic that must precede another in order for the latter to make sense. If you are using a word processor, it is easy to cut and paste the topics into a logical flow.
: As you move your original topics into a logical order, you’ll identify a few gaps and some overlaps. Add topics to fill in the gaps and either eliminate the redundant topics or adjust them to create enough distinction to warrant their inclusion in your manuscript.
: Let your outline sit for a while — a few days perhaps. Review it with fresh eyes to be sure it makes sense. Be sure to ask yourself with respect to each topic whether you can realistically find the information you’d like to include. Make adjustments to your outline.
Once you’ve completed this process, the real work begins. The beauty of this process, however, is that you’ll have completed what some consider the hardest part of writing a book. You now know what you’re going to write — all you have to do is write it!
: As you write, you’ll often want to change the headings of the outline to sound more clever, interesting or intriguing. Don’t be bound by your outline. You may also find that one topic is much richer than you’d thought and therefore may provide enough material for more topics. Feel free to let that section expand into multiple sections if it is warranted. Similarly, you may find that one idea you thought might be a meaningful chapter just isn’t interesting enough; cut it completely or tack on a section to another chapter. Don’t marry your outline, just use it to help you write your masterpiece. Marry your masterpiece.
Devin Thorpe, husband, father, author of Your Mark On The World and a popular guest speaker, is a Forbes Contributor. Building on a twenty-five year career in finance and entrepreneurship that included $500 million in completed transactions, he now champions social good full time, seeking to help others succeed in their efforts to make the world a better place.