When it comes to writing, people often fall into two categories: the planner, who plans every detail before starting, and the doer, who jumps in and starts without giving much thought to details.
There are pros and cons to each type–planners might have a hard time actually starting the project, and doers might run into problems they could have avoided. I propose that a strong book outline helps solve problems for both types. They help the planner to start, and they help the doer to ensure efficiency and clarity.
1. Book Outlines Help You Start
Most writers will agree that writing is difficult. You find every reason to put off writing the book you want to write, from nursing your (barely there) headache, to washing those dishes that suddenly got very important. Starting the book sounds overwhelming because you’re wondering where those hundreds of pages will come from.
Outlines, however, help you start. You don't have to write the entire book at first, you just need to decide what you want to write. Here are four steps to help you get started:
- Write down the major topics you want to cover.
- Look at one of those topics, and write in possible points underneath that to flesh out the topic.
- Start adding in the support and potential research you would need.
- And then continue.
Once you have the outline down, it then helps you to start writing. Why? Because, again, you don't have to write all of the books at once. All you have to do that day is write one subpoint, probably a few paragraphs at a time. And then continue.
2. Book Outlines Save You Time
When you first start writing a book, it’s easy to get excited about a topic and start typing away with whatever words come out first.
However, the drawback with jumping in full throttle is that sometimes you’ll spend hours, days, even weeks on a piece, but once you stop and look at the book as a whole, considering your book topic and specific audience, you have to throw out all of that writing you spent so much time on because it doesn't relate.
Instead, first think through your outline carefully (using the steps listed above) Then, look at your book topic and audience (which you should have made very, very specific by this point). Compare every point on your outline to your book topic and audience.
Is each point strong? Do you have enough support for the point? Does it clearly relate to the book topic and audience?
When all of your points are written together, you can judge them more clearly and be strategic about what to include and what to remove.
3. Book Outlines Increase Clarity for Your Reader
You’ve probably read a book or sat through a speech that wasn't organized well. It’s difficult to keep up when this happens, even if the content is solid. There are rabbit trails, the topics jump back and forth, and you’re never quite sure where things are going.
If you have planned out your book before you start writing, however, you know exactly where you’re going with each chapter, each subpoint, each paragraph. You’ve arranged each chapter logically, made sure the points connect, and checked for any holes in your content. You’re able to lead your reader smoothly from each point to the next.
I cannot overemphasize the importance of clear structure. Strong outlines help show your reader you care about them. You’ve done as much planning as possible to make sure you’re giving them a clear, effective resource that’s easy to follow.
Make this work for you
As with all creative pursuits, it’s important to learn what works for you and your strengths. You can tailor these tips to your unique talents. However, I encourage you to give an honest try at a strong, planned outline, and test how it helps the clarity and efficiency of your writing.