The one where I explain my process for outlining a non-fiction book.
Hello, it's Martine here. Welcome to episode 58 of the podcast.
You might have been looking at the title of this episode thinking, "Martine, this isn't a writing podcast. Why are you telling us how to write a brilliant book outline?"
That's a really good question.
The thing is, if you run a business, pretty much everything you do starts with writing, whether you write blog posts, copy for articles. You might write a business plan. You might write an email newsletter. Everything you do starts with writing. It's such an important skill.
I've blogged about this recently. If you'd like to read the blog post, hop over to martineellis.com/challenge.
Incidentally, I started my list of things I do in my business that start with writing. Without giving it much thought, I came up with:
That was without giving it much thought at all.
The other thing that used to take up a lot of my time in terms of writing was transcribing these podcast episodes. Thankfully, I now outsource that to a company called Rev and you'll find them at rev.com.
Clearly, writing is a really important skill in business. Strangely, unless you are running an author business, it's not often you practice this skill. Am I right?
I figured we could all do with a little bit of help developing our writing skills.
In the blog post I mentioned a moment ago, you will have seen that I'm running a writing challenge in my Facebook group, The Lightbulb Club. If you're not a member, hop over and join us. We'd love to welcome you. Just put this URL into your browser: thelightbulb.club, and that will redirect you to the Facebook group.
This challenge kicks off in September. What I'm encouraging you to do is write every day. Sounds easy, doesn't it?
Actually, it's quite tricky to develop a habit of writing. However, doing a challenge is a great way to try to develop a habit of writing because you'll have the support of everyone else doing the challenge. We've got lots of great people who plan to take part.
You can read all about the challenge and find the guidelines if you hope over to martineellis.com/september-writing-challenge. There will be links for everything in the show notes for this episode. You'll find those at martineellis.com/58.
Let's get back to the title of this episode: how to write a brilliant book outline.
It's my intention to write the first draft of an ebook during September. I'm aiming for a thousand words a day, so I'll have 30,000 words by the end of the month.
That's the plan.
That's a decent length for a short ebook.
It sounds like I'm not the only one aiming for an ebook during September, so I thought it would be a good idea to share my book outlining process.
Given that we've only got a week to go before the challenge starts, now would be a really good time to outline your book project.
I should point out at this stage that I am writing a non-fiction book. However, if you were writing fiction, an outline is still a really important part of the process. I've not written fiction before, but I'd like to think that a similar process would apply to fiction as well.
Here's what I do.
I grab a big piece of flip chart paper, some sticky notes, and a pen. This would also work well on a whiteboard or any surface that you're happy to attach sticky notes to. I like to use a flip chart or a whiteboard because I can write on that as well later on if I want to.
I give my book a working title. It's not the final title. It's just a title that encompasses the subject of the book, just to give me some focus.
Then I brain dump absolutely everything onto sticky notes, one thing per sticky note. All of the things that I associate with my working title go on a sticky note.
This process might take 30 minutes. It might take a couple of days because I might leave it rest and then add things as I think of them. Work in whichever way you like.
When I think I've got everything out of my head onto sticky notes, I spread them out and start grouping them together into topics. The sticky notes that have things in common go in a group.
This is the good thing about using sticky notes is obviously you can pick them up and reposition them. If I just wrote my brain dump on a piece of paper or a whiteboard, it's quite hard to reorganize things because you have to cross them out and erase them.
Once I have everything grouped together, I take a look at them and work out if they make suitable chapters. Typically, they do because you're grouping like with like.
After that, I put the chapters in some form of order. Depending on the type of book I'm writing, I might come up with a working title for each chapter as well.
When I'm at this stage of the outlining process, I tend to find that more topics come out of my head and then they end up going directly into the correct chapters. It's a really interesting process to go through.
You might want to start ordering your chapter contents at this stage, so looking at one chapter at a time and putting the topics in a logical order.
By now, I'm ready to start working digitally. I'll do one of two things. I'll either put the outline as it stands into a Google Doc and then tweak it a little bit and make sure I'm perfectly happy, or I'll open my writing program, which is Scrivener, and I'll put the outline straight in there. I'll set up the chapters and I'll use the topic list as notes.
Incidentally, if you haven't used Scrivener before, it's a fantastic writing tool. It's not very expensive. I'll make sure there's information about it in the show notes. There is a bit of a learning curve associated with Scrivener. You do have to invest a little bit of time working out what everything does, but I've done a great course on it called Learn Scrivener Fast. Again, I'll link to that in the show notes. It's highly recommended.
If you're not ready to invest in fancy book writing software, then that's totally fine. A Google Doc or a Word document or whatever you want to use is going to work absolutely fine. That's my book outlining process.
If you've already written a book before, I'd be very interested to hear your process and whether it's similar or different to mine. Do let me know in The Lightbulb Club.
Before I wrap up this episode, I wanted to share a couple of quick tips to help you approach the September writing challenge.
My first tip is to try to write at the same time every day. For me, that's going to mean getting up an hour earlier than usual and writing it in the morning.
Pick a time when your energy levels are correct for the writing process. For me, first thing in the morning works well because my brain is switched on, but I'm not ready to do anything that involves a huge amount of physical activity, so writing is perfect first thing in the morning. This might not be the case for you.
Make sure you have a reward lined up for every day that you complete the writing challenge. For me, it's very simple. It's a nice cup of coffee. Decaffeinated, I should add, but still it's an enjoyable treat nonetheless. Rewarding yourself will really help in the formation of your writing habits. You can read more about habit formation in my blog post that I mentioned earlier in the episode.
Another tip is to use the 'don't break the chain method'. This is a great way to form a habit. I'll link to some information about it in the show notes and I'll have a free printable for you to download to help you with this technique.
Make sure you check in with The Lightbulb Club group on a daily basis. I will be posting daily reminders for you to update us about your writing, how you did on that particular day. By checking in with the group, you're going to not feel alone in the process and you'll have a chance to see how everybody else is doing. Generally, I think it'll really help your motivation.
Finally, if, like me, you're planning to write the first draft of a book over September, then make sure you are only writing in September. Make sure you are not editing. Writing and editing uses two different parts of the brain, and so if you do both at the same time, you are just not going to be as productive. Just write a messy first draft. That's what first drafts are supposed to be: messy. Editing happens later on in the process.
If you are writing something different during September, for example, a series of blog posts, then, of course, you are going to need to do some editing during the month. However, do try to use the messy first draft, edit afterwards approach if you can because I have a sneaky feeling it's going to improve your efficiency.
Okay, that's all for me today. I hope you've enjoyed the episode and I hope you're excited about the September writing challenge. I will see you in the Lightbulb Club. Thanks for tuning in.
This episode was sponsored by The Lightbulb Academy. Find out more at thelightbulbacademy.com.