Editor’s note: this article was written by guest contributor Ali Luke, author of Lycopolis.
Have you ever started a book … only to give up part-way?
Some authors get a few chapters into their book before running out of steam. Others don’t even begin: they have a great idea, but they’re stuck at the starting line, not sure what direction to take.
And, even worse, some authors struggle all the way from the first sentence to The End … only to find that their book needs huge structural revisions. They might even scrap it completely.
You don’t want to be in that position. You want to set yourself up for success right from the start of your writing journey. Here’s how.
Planning a Non-Fiction Book
If you’re working on a non-fiction book, then it’s a good idea to have a full outline in place before you start. Your outline makes things easy for you and for your reader: it ensures that you include everything important (and leave out the tangents), and it lets you organize your information in the most logical order.
Here’s one method you can use to create your outline:
#1: Draw a Mindmap
Sit down with a blank sheet of paper and write your book’s title (or topic) in the centre. Jot down all the ideas that you have around the edge. Don’t worry about putting them in order or selecting between them – just get everything down.
You might want to do this in a couple of 15 minute sessions on two different days (that way, your subconscious mind will keep working on the ideas in between).
Once you’re confident you’ve captured all your key ideas, you can start prioritizing them. Which ones belong in this book? Would any be more suitable for a sequel? Are some of the ideas too basic, or too advanced? Use a colored pen or highlighter to mark the ones you want to keep.
#2: Create a Chapter-by-Chapter Outline
Your next step is to turn your mindmap into a chapter-by-chapter outline: this is the table of contents for your book.
You’ll want to start with an “Introduction” and end with a “Conclusion” (though you can name those slightly differently if you want). In between, you’ll have chapters. If you find that you’ve got a lot of chapters, or if they cover a broad span of material, you might also want to separate the book into separate parts.
You’ll want to create your chapter-by-chapter outline as a computer document, so you can easily rearrange the chapters. Usually, you’ll want to put the more basic material at the start of your book, and work up gradually to more advanced topics.
#3: Write Notes for Each Chapter
It’s a great idea to also make a few notes on each chapter at the planning stage. It’s up to you exactly how you do this, but one technique that works well is to jot down subheadings or key points that you want to cover in each chapter.
You could also make notes at this stage about key resources you’ll need to reference, or people you may want to interview. Sometimes, you might find that one chapter is going to require a lot of research: if so, you might choose to change the scope of your book slightly and cut out that chapter, or you might want to keep it in but allow extra time for writing it.
… but be flexible!
Whatever kind of book you’re writing, your plan won’t be set in stone. As you make progress, you may well find things that you want to change – and that’s fine. But by having that plan from the outset, you make it much easier to stay on track with your writing, from start to end … and you dramatically increase the chances that your finished book is going to go down well with readers.
About the author: Ali Luke is currently on a virtual book tour for her novel Lycopolis, a fast-paced supernatural thriller centered on a group of online roleplayers who summon a demon into their game … and into the world. Described by readers as “a fast and furious, addictive piece of escapism” and “absolutely gripping”, Lycopolis is available in print and e-book form. Find out more at www.lycopolis.co.uk.