You’ve decided to write a book, so you sit down at your keyboard and begin typing. Writers write, right? Yes. But they also plan and outline.
Spend some time—days, weeks, even months—to create your book outline. It’s time well spent because it makes writing your book faster and easier. It gives you a roadmap to get you to the finish line.
Your outline’s two main goals are to organize your information into chapters and subsections of related information; and then arrange those chapters in the appropriate order. Presenting your information chronologically is one way to deliver your thesis.
You’re working at a macro level when developing your outline. You are not thinking about grammar, spelling, or punctuation. For now, your focus is on grouping information and ideas. Your first chapter presents your thesis—the central idea of your book. The subsequent chapters unpack that idea, explaining it in detail, building your argument, supporting it with research, defending it against other ideas. Ideally, you’ll have 10 to 20 chapters and each of those broken out into smaller subsections. Ten to 20 chapters is an average range. If you have only a few chapters, you’ll need to find more support for your argument or perhaps a broader approach. Thirty or more chapters may mean you have enough information for a second book!
Even a memoir benefits from an outline—and one that considers the arc of the story. The chapters, instead of defending a thesis, may be more focused on events and people important to your story. For instance, events or people that support your book’s theme.
You may choose to develop your outline in a chart or table on your computer. But, especially for visual thinkers, consider using coloured markers on a whiteboard, or sticky notes on a wall, to develop your categories. This map-making might fill your entire dining table or one wall in your living room! Either way, you’ll need some space. For instance, use one colour for each type of information and collect those into vertical rows. Our goal here is to create categories of related information that will form the basis of your chapters.
There are plenty of benefits to working with an outline. One of my favourites is that having a detailed outline gives you the flexibility to jump in anywhere; you can write Chapter 7 on Wednesday and Chapter 3 on Friday.
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