At first all seems well.
You’re humming along writing your book.
You’re excited to ship your book out to the world.
But then doubts creep up.
You’re not sure if you’re on the right rack. You feel you’re almost randomly throwing words together.
Images of doom take residence in your mind.
You see yourself sitting on a street corner, begging for change, regretting ever trying to string a sentence together.
You’re confused, frustrated, and ready to give up.
There’s a Better Way
It’s called planning.
Planning helps me avoid the madness of overwhelm.
I’ve tried writing books without planning, and I end up feeling like all I’ve done is vomit words on the page.
Planning may sound boring, but all it is is asking the right questions.
How I Plan, Outline, and Write My Books
At this point you may be imagining me sitting in front of my computer drinking a magical productivity elixir, but that is not the case.
My routine is ordinary, and dare I say, boring. But that’s what makes it work. Anyone can do this. Yes, that means you, too.
Here’s what I do:
1. Determine the Destination
Before I do anything, I ask myself: What is the purpose of this book? What is the end goal?
I brainstorm the problems I think I’m solving, and the people I’m helping.
I’m driving a bus, and when you buy one of my books, I’m asking you to hop on that bus with me.
Naturally, you’ll want to know where we’re going, and if there will be any goodies or pleasant surprises along the way.
The purpose of the book I’m working on right now (Do What You Love) is solving the confusion around doing what you love.
2. Draw the Map
Next, I ask myself questions like: What steps does someone need to take to achieve their goal?
If I can’t answer that, I’ll use a question I learned from the book 2k to 10k: What needs to happen before they reach the finish line?
In Do What You Love I haven’t mapped out a step-by-step path, instead I opted for a problem-focused approach, where each chapter solves a problem.
However, in How to Write Nonfiction eBooks, I take you step-by-step from not knowing what to write, to having your book done and out there.
In essence, I show you how to go from no book to a book you’re proud of.
I often use mind maps to get this process started.
Here’s an example of an early mind map (click the image to enlarge):
3. Find a Common Structure
Another handy thing I do is I try to find a common structure for each chapter.
For example, with my book on Writing Blog Posts Readers Love, the structure I started with for each chapter was:
- Introduction (story if possible)
- What (define the concept)
- Why (why learn this)
- How (how to apply the information)
- What if (objection)
- Mistakes (blunders to avoid)
- Example (from my life or a made up example)
- Action steps
The structure may change from chapter to chapter, but I start with the structure above; it focuses my mind on what each chapter needs to contain.
4. Mind Map to Scrivener
At this point, I have the beginnings of my outline. It’s not done, but I have my ideas in a mind map, and I have a common structure in place.
Once I have all this, I transfer my mind map to Scrivener.
Before I used Scrivener, I wrote in MS Word, which I thought was adequate, but I had no idea what I was missing.
5. Write, Write, Write
With everything in Scrivener, I start writing.
My outline often changes as I write, which is to be expected.
The goal of my first draft is to dump everything I know onto digital paper.
The outline helps me stay focused, and it eliminates the worry of if I’m on the right track.
And here’s another handy tip.. .
Once I get going, serendipity often rears its beautiful head. At least more often than not.
I might find an article, video, or a book that’s relevant to what I’m writing. When I consume it, I’ll get ideas, and I’ll get nudges of what I can put in my book.
For example, while writing Do What You Love, I felt drawn to certain books, such as:
These books serve as catalysts for my ideas. They remind me of what I already know.
Be careful though. You don’t want to be too affected by what you read. Share how you view the world. That is enough. That is what you’re here to do.
Avoid This at All Cost
Don’t make the method the ruler.
I’m loyal to no method. If mind mapping doesn’t work, I’ll try something else. Sometimes I’ll use looser outlines, and sometimes I won’t.
Use what works for you. And remember, what works today may not work tomorrow, so stay nimble.
Taking time to plan and outline my books saves me from getting stuck, and feeling overwhelmed, down the road.
You can outline as loosely, or as strictly, as you want.
There are no rules.
What matters is that you write.
All the coolest,
P.S. My book, How to Write Nonfiction eBooks: A Proven 17-Step Guide, is quite handy if you want a step-by-step plan for writing your book without drowning in overwhelm. It’s a nice blend of inspiration + how-to.