You’ve been tossing an idea around for months. You know it would make a great book, but where to begin? You’ve never written an entire book. Maybe you’ve written for fun, or written short articles or blog posts, but the idea of an entire book is daunting. Whether you’re writing fiction or nonfiction, it is helpful to break the process down into steps.
FIRST STEP - BRAINSTORMING
MAIN IDEA/PURPOSE: There are many reasons to write a book, which is defined as your purpose. Once you determine your purpose, your writing objective will be clear and you can develop your outline with that purpose in mind. Clarifying your purpose up front, will help you stay on track as you continue to develop your writing project. When the idea for a book first hits, write it down. To help clarify the purpose of your writing, ask yourself these questions:
• Why am I writing this?
• Who is it for?
• How will it help my reader?
• Does it help my reader?
• Entertain my reader?
• Inform my reader?
Once you’ve clarified your purpose, write it down.
BRAINSTORM: Brainstorming is an important part of the writing process. It helps you identify points you want to make about your topic. Brainstorming can, and usually will, be done throughout the entire writing process as it will allow you to further expand upon your idea. There are many ways to brainstorm, and I have included a few below:
- Free write: You can use a tool such as your Notes App, MS Word, Scrivener, or Google Docs. I have used all of these tools and have been very happy with each one. When I am working with a team, I tend to stick with Google Docs as it is easy to share documents, feedback, and ideas. When working on my own, I use mostly my Notes App, Scrivener, or MS Word.
- Mind Maps: Mind maps are a great tool for organizing information during the brainstorming process. Your brain works more efficiently when it can think in pictures and colors, connecting ideas and clarifying the big picture.
- Lists: Lists are a great way to brainstorm. Whether it’s on a piece of paper or in an email or a list app, a list is an easy way to quickly jot down your brainstorming ideas.
- Dictation: Don’t have a pen and paper handy, not near your computer? Just voice record your ideas into your phone. You can either do this straight into your notes app, an email, or a voice recorder to be transcribed later. Dictation is a quick and easy way to immediately capture your ideas. You’ll be surprised how beneficial it is to talk through your ideas.
- Keyword Search: Perform a keyword search online and print the list out for easy reference. You can add these keywords to your brainstorming notes. Keyword searches help you to discover research sources and what others want to know about your topic. You will also get to know your audience better and know which words grab their attention best.
By brainstorming in this way, you are capitalizing on the novelty factor of your idea. Novelty is defined as the quality or state of being new, different, and interesting. When an idea first hits you, it’s new and it has grabbed your attention. You want to take advantage of this state of mind and write down as much about this idea as possible before you lose the “passion” of the moment.
As you continue to brainstorm, ask yourself this question: Why should someone read my book? Keeping this thought in the forefront will help you define your writing goal and narrow your target audience.
I used to be that person who sat in front of my computer, papers scattered about, trying to make sense of all my notes. I know I wrote that down somewhere, I’d often say to myself. I knew there had to be a better way to organize my notes and thoughts. After much trial and error, I was able to find the most effective ways to organize my information.
By using the above methods, labeling each document and keeping hard copies together in a folder or binder, I was able to easily locate the information I needed to begin creating my outline, which brings us to the next step to our process.
SECOND STEP - OUTLINING
An outline provides you with a content plan to follow. You know what to write next, reducing the chance of losing sight of your end goal and the path you need to take to get there. When writing fiction, I like to use the fence post approach. You can read more about it here.
You will be able to write more efficiently when you have a plan in place. If you only have an hour to sit and write, you can look at your outline, pick a point to write about during that hour rather than wasting the hour wondering where your story should go next.
An outline also provides you with a larger picture, allowing you to make changes and improvements as you go. If you see the outline laid out in front of you, you can easily pick out any gaping holes in your plot or information missing when writing nonfiction.
Think of your outline as a table of contents and add each topic as a main point or chapter heading. Take your free writing notes, mind maps, and key word search and pull out the main points. You will then want to add your subheadings, supporting information, and any resources you have gathered with your brainstorming tools.
As you write, you will continue to research, and all of your resources need to be easily accessible. Not having this information at your fingertips is a sure way to slow down the entire writing process, risking the loss of momentum you have going for you. Your outline is where you will organize all of this information.
If, as you are writing, you discover you need to further research an area, simply add and R in brackets [R] next to the heading or subheading of your outline. At a later time, you can simply do a search for the appropriate symbol [R] and fill in the information as you gather it.
TIP: At any point during the writing process, if there is something you’d like to address further, but don’t want to interrupt your workflow, place a keyword in brackets such as [rewrite], [R] (for research), [V] (for verify) etc. into your outline. You can then perform a search in your document to locate these notes at a later time.
THIRD STEP - WRITE: So now it’s your turn. Begin by defining your purpose and brainstorming your great idea. Once you have spent some time getting all your thoughts down, go ahead and organize the information into a content plan – your outline, and then begin writing. Let me know how it goes in the comments below!