Creating an Outline for Your Book

In yesterday's blog post I discussed Brainstorming a Book Idea. Now that you’ve completed your brainstorming session, you can take the ideas you’ve collected to create an outline for your book. Outlines are a matter of personal choice for each writer. Some writers are organized and follow their outline rigorously, while others don’t like to be as structured and want to see where the journey takes them. I like to start with a loose outline before I begin a book, yet remain open to inspiration when the book decides to take off in a completely different direction. Still, it’s nice to have an outline to aid in incorporating the ideas that came from your brainstorming and journaling sessions. Think of your outline as a treasure map, a written route for your trip.

The outline can often be intimidating to aspiring authors and this is where many become overwhelmed and abandon the project. For that reason, I am going to try to keep this task as simple as possible. Try not to over-think this; remember, you don’t need to have everything figured out before you start writing. The outline is to give you a roadmap while writing and is a great tool to reference, but again, choosing to use an outline is a writer’s personal choice. It’s a guidance tool to help you along the way.

You’re probably thinking, the dreaded outline!

Please try not to look at it in that light. The outline shouldn’t intimidate you; it is instead intended to assist you in the book-writing process. Again, it’s a personal preference and some writers choose not to use one at all. Either way, I urge you to fill out the outline as much as you can so you have a generic vision of where your book will be going before the process begins. You may change your mind and go off-track during the writing process and that is OK! It’s your book! The outline will at least give you something to reference should you get blocked, and it will also help you organize your thoughts.

In the 8-Week Book Writing Intensive, I go into both the non-fiction and fiction outlines in great detail. For this article, I am going to speak primarily about a non-fiction outline, although the concepts could easily be applied to fiction as well.

Let's begin...

Consider first the type of book you will be writing and then list the components that make up that style of book. For example, you wouldn’t outline a cookbook in the same way as a self-help book. Start by listing all the key sections you know up front that your book will need, and any chapters you want to add. Start listing them in a logical order, but don’t stress too much over this task, since chapters and sections can easily be moved throughout the book-writing process, and often are. I like to aim for ten, including the introduction and conclusion, and then making 2-4 bullet points that I want to touch on for each topic.

You can refer to my example as listed below. This is the outline I created before writing my book, Write from the Heart: A Step-by-step Writing Guide to Get Your Message from Idea to Publication. I included all the main points I wanted to cover, put them in a logical order, and then for each one I jotted down two or three sentences on the subjects that I would cover in each section. See below:

Write from the Heart Book Outline by Shanda Trofe
Write from the Heart Book Outline by Shanda Trofe

As you can see I started with the main sections I wanted to include in this book, and then added 2-4 bullet points for each section. While writing, I didn’t follow this outline rigorously, but it kept my thoughts organized and allowed me to record all the points I wanted to incorporate into the book. I moved some bullet points to different sections while writing the book, and I added more ideas as I wrote. I didn’t always progress in order, so if I wanted to work on Chapter Six one day, and Chapter Four the next, I could. I knew eventually all the points would need details, present challenges and require examples. After all sections were complete, I added the final table of contents last, because I moved sections around during the writing process.

When it comes time to write your book, you might not follow this outline exactly, but you can always refer back to it to ensure you didn’t forget anything. Having a template to refer to might even make the task at hand more manageable once you see your book idea structured on paper.

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