TOP 10 Reasons (plus 1) Why an Outline is Important When Writing a BookBy Lynn Serafinn on September 20th, 2012
Bestselling author and book marketing consultant Lynn Serafinn shares her top reasons why an outline can help you get your book written.
If you are in the middle of a book project and you keep getting stuck, or it seems to take on a life of its own and go ‘all over the place’, it’s probably because you have no outline OR you did at one time and you have since abandoned it. Because I have seen that so many new authors writing their first book do not make an outline before beginning their project, I thought I’d share with you the TOP 10 reasons (plus 1) why defining a structure and creating an outline for your book is so important:
- It makes writing easier. When you go to sit down to work, you know exactly what parts of your book need to get done. And remember, just because you have an ordered outline, you are NOT committed to writing it in order. You can start anywhere.
- It makes reading easier. Books that have a structure are easier for readers to comprehend.
- It makes your message memorable. Readers can remember your message when there is a structure attached to it. It makes abstract concepts more memorable, and enables readers to feel they have gained something they can take away from the book, after they have finished it.
- It helps ensure you are thorough. If you have an outline, you won’t accidentally omit something vital to your message or storyline.
- It helps limit continuity errors. While thoroughness refers to ensuring that all important thoughts and details are included in your text, continuity refers to ensuring your thoughts and events following a logical sequence. An outline can help you see the continuity of your book before writing it.
- It helps ensure your book has symmetry. Symmetry means that all the assembled parts of your book have a “shape” when pieced all together.
- It helps ensure your book has balance. A good outline can help you see if some parts of your book are less substantial than others. A well-balanced book is organised in such a way that the ideas are balanced both in quantity and in quality against each other.
- It helps keep you focussed. When you have an outline (and stick to it) you won’t be as tempted to go off on a tangent. This doesn’t mean you will NEVER deviate or come up with great new ideas. But if the outline is there, you can see how these new ideas fit into your original intention.
- It helps to motivate you. When you have an outline, you see yourself making progress and ticking off the “boxes”, so to speak. This helps keep you motivated as you move closer and closer to your goal of finishing your book.
- It helps you develop a regular writing practice. If you have an outline to depend upon, you are far more likely to sit down at your desk (or wherever you happen to write) and START WRITING rather than waiting for the “muse” to shoot arrows at you.
And here’s the +1 bonus reason…
It keeps your READERS engaged. When you are writing a book, you are like a tour guide taking your readers on a journey from point A to point B. If you don’t know where your readers are starting from, you won’t be able to ‘meet them’ and get them on board at the beginning of the book. And if you don’t know where you’re taking them, a lot of them will hop of the bus (i.e., put down your book) before they get to the destination…if you manage to take them there at all.
Case in point: did you notice how I used structure to create cohesion in this article? FIRST decided I would find 10 top reasons, and then wrote down the reasons. Then, I started writing. Because I organised my ideas through a structure, the article seemed to write itself. And for you as a reader, isn’t it a lot easier to remember them than if I simply talked about the topic without a structure?
‘When you are writing a book, you are like a tour guide taking your readers on a journey from point A to point B.’
When I first started writing my book The 7 Graces of Marketing in 2010, I didn’t have a structure. I wrote a lot, but I ‘waffled’ a heck of a lot too. I kept moving things around and couldn’t see where I was going. I found myself saying the same thing over and over without realising it, and there was no real over-arching point or direction for what I was writing. Then, one day, about an hour before I was going to deliver a talk on ‘spiritual marketing’ to a group of business owners at the One World Festival here in the UK, I felt really stuck in knowing how to communicate the ideas I felt intuitive, but couldn’t quite put my fingers on. I ‘called out to the heavens’ in sheer frustration asking (out loud), ‘What IS it? What IS it?’ I needed to know the ‘hook’, the outline, the structure of what I was trying to say because without this ‘map’ even I was lost! Amazingly, the 7 Graces (and 7 Deadly Sins) of marketing almost magically appeared in an instant. After that, the book took me another year to write, but I knew my direction every step of the way.
Don’t ‘fear’ the parameters of your outline or turn it into ‘gospel’. Just because you decide upon a structure doesn’t mean it can’t (or shouldn’t) bend flexibly as you go along. In fact, if you don’t allow your book to flow where it wants to go within the essence of your structure, you will not be honouring your creative spontaneity, and you might limit the impact of your book. You might first come up with a single outline structure, and they you find more structures within that structure as you write.
For example, when I sat down to write my new Twitter book Tweep-e-Licious (coming out Oct 2012) I challenged myself to write 100 Twitter ‘tips’, which I did. Then, when I looked at them, I saw they could be broken into 14 categories, which helped me organise them even more. Then, as I started writing, I found I needed to merge some tips, split some tips into two or three separate tips, and add others I hadn’t thought of when I first started. Eventually, I ended up with 160 tips. Then, I also found the book ‘wanted’ to draw upon the 7 Graces to bring more relevance to the book. Then, the book ‘wanted’ to go beyond practical tips and get into strategies and issues around ethics. The end result was something that was VERY different from my original concept of a ‘quick little eBook on Twitter’. But what I got from it was a substantial, meaningful book with which I’m much happier and I think will bring more value to readers. And the amazing thing is that I wrote this book in less than two months, compared to the two years I took to write my previous books. It all started by creating a structure early in the process, and then allowing the structure to bend and flow. It kept me extremely motivated, and I wrote just about every day because I was genuinely excited about how I felt when writing.
And THAT is probably the best reason of all to have
an outline, structure or ‘hook’ to your book.
It makes you love writing.
If you’ve got a book, or a project in you, or a BRAND in you, having a structure to ‘hang it on’ can really clarify your direction and purpose. But many times creative individuals find it difficult to define the ‘hook’ needed to take a book, business or speaking platform forward. While most people know me as a marketing consulting, helping to clarify structures and brands is another way I help authors, speakers, business owners and social entrepreneurs. If you’ve been struggling to find your structure or your unique ‘hook’, please drop me a line via the CONTACT FORM on this site, and we can set up a free 30 minute consultation.
So what do YOU think? Are outlines necessary? Are they liberating, doorways to creativity or just plain restrictive strangle-holds? Please share your own book and outline writing journeys with our Spirit Authors readers by leaving a comment below.
AND DON’T FORGET to subscribe to the Spirit Authors blog for more tips on writing, publishing, book promotion and new mind-body-spirit book releases.
Lynn Serafinn, MAED, CPCC is a certified, award-winning coach, teacher, marketer, social media expert, radio host, speaker and author of the number one bestseller The 7 Graces of Marketing: How to Heal Humanity and the Planet by Changing the Way We Sell. Her eclectic approach to marketing incorporates her vast professional experience in the music industry and the educational sector along with more than two decades of study and practice of the spirituality of India. In her work as a promotional manager she has produced a long list of bestselling mind-body-spirit authors. She is the founder of Spirit Authors, a site dedicated to providing information on publishing and book promotioin for and about mind-body-spirit authors, both established and aspiring.
Lynn is also the Founder of the 7 Graces Project, a budding social enterprise whose aim is to help grow a new generation of passionate entrepreneurs who want to serve both people and planet through innovative, ethical, independent enterprise. Join their community on Facebook at http://facebook.com/groups/7GracesGlobalGarden.
Watch for Lynn’s new book Tweep-e-Licious: 160 Twitter Tips and Strategies for Writers, Social Entrepreneurs and Changemakers Who Want to Market Their Businesses Ethically (coming October 2012).