You might be wondering how to overcome writers block permanently, but has this every happened to you?
Inspiration hits and you rush to your keyboard. You start pounding away at those little letters on your keyboard lighting it up with all the words that are flying out of you.
People need to hear this story!
When you’re done, you push your chair back from your desk and read it.
“Ugh. That is just a bunch of ramblings. Will anybody ever care about this?”
You drop the lid on your laptop and walk away…
Or, possibly more likely, you’ve sat down with the deep desire to start writing but that silly little cursor taunts you.
You stare at the blinking on the white screen wondering where to start or what you need to say.
If either of these things have ever happened to you there’s good news – there’s a really simple way to fix it.
How to Completely Overcome Writers Block (and Stop from Writing Ramblings)
The secret? Create an outline for your book before you start.
The outline is a non-fiction writer’s best friend.
We know your anxious to get going and write the darn book but skipping the stage of creating a great outline will cost you a lot of time later when you get stuck trying to overcome writers block or you waste dozens of hours writing material that never makes the final manuscript.
A good outline is your map. It lays out where your book is going, from start to finish. It also, conveniently, helps you gather all of the pieces and topics of your book prior to you writing a word. Then, when it’s time to write, it’s just like turning on your GPS with your destination. All you have to think about is when you make the next turn. The rest is in the plan and you just have to follow it.
You’re busy, right? This is the single biggest reason to take time now to create your outline – it saves you dozens and dozens of wasted hours later.
So … How do you create an outline?
It sounds simple, but the truth is that it’s not that easy to create a great outline. It’s why every Book Launchers client starts their book journey working with a Writing Coach who will guide them through creating their outline. Even with a professional by their side, this process often takes four to six weeks. It can be tricky to know what is important to include in a book, and what needs to be cut! (If you don’t think you’re a good writer at all, check out this article on writing a book when you aren’t a good writer).
Whether you decide to get help with your outline or not, there are three main approaches to laying out your book and putting it all together.
There are a variety of ways to outline your book. Different methods suit different people, depending on factors like the topic of the book, the author’s familiarity with the topic, or the type of learning that appeals to the author (visual, linguistic, kinesthetic, etc).
Here are three ways to outline your book. Try them all, or choose the one you know suits you the best.
Book Outline Method 1: Note Cards
Do you have sticky notes all over your office?
Does physically doing an activity jog your memory to what you thought of the last time you did that activity?
Note cards appeal to people who like to physically touch and handle their thoughts. If you like the notion of shuffling your ideas around like cards in a deck, note cards might be the method for you.
How it works
Buy a package of colorful 3×5 index cards. You want at least three colors. The pastels are easier to read your writing on versus the extreme colors.
Assign colors for each of the three parts of a chapter:
Chapter Subject: The main point of the chapter.
Chapter Topics: 3-5 Topics that expand on the chapter subject.
Chapter Sub-Topics: 3-5 subtopics that expand on the chapter topics.
Take 12-15 note cards and write down an idea for a chapter on each card. If you’re writing a book on running your first 5K, for example, chapter subjects might include:
- Injury Prevention, and
- Training Schedules.
Each subject would get its own card. Your introduction doesn’t count, so if one of your cards is your intro, make another chapter heading.
Once you have 12-15 note cards assess what you have. Do all of these subjects really need their own chapter? Can some of them be combined into one? If they can, staple those cards together. Ask yourself, if you have enough material to make an entire chapter out of a subject.
Then, find two note cards that don’t belong and toss them. Having a fat book is not as important as having satisfied readers. Keep your book fluff-free! There are almost always a couple of subjects you think should be in your book, but when you look at all the topics laid out you can see that they just aren’t meaty enough to be their own chapter.
Now you have the Chapters of your book.
Exciting, right? You can really begin to see the shape and structure of your book. Now, you need to add a little more meat to it.
Next, uncover your chapter topics.
Write out 3-5 cards that further explain each chapter subject. To go back to our 5K running example, for Injury Prevention you might add Stretching, Hydration, Gradual Increases in Speed, and Slow Increases in Distances.
Finally, add your last color coded cards. On these 3-5 cards you would come up with details for each subtopic. For example, under Stretching, you may talk about Yoga moves, when to stretch, how long to stretch, and the best stretches for dealing with shin splints.
The big benefit of this method is being able to manually move pieces around, see what topics don’t have enough cards, and reorganize quickly. However, be aware that you may lose a card! Be careful to keep them organized in one place – get a recipe card box to store them in and once you have them in order, put a number in the bottom corner of each card.
Book Outline Method 2: MindMap
Do you like to doodle? Do you connect two unrelated topics by making intuitive leaps that leaves everyone else scratching their head?
Mind mapping appeals to people who like to work visually and creatively. If you like the idea of moving your book topics around on a canvas, then mind mapping might be for you.
How it Works
While pen and paper can work, you’ll have a lot more flexibility if you use one of the many mind mapping software programs available on the internet. Many are free, like mindmeister.com and most are fairly intuitive. Using software allows you to make easy deletes, color code your selections and move things around with a click of your mouse.
Start with your title in the center.
As you think of Chapter Headings, create circles that connect to the center. As details and topics occur to you, place them in headings or subheadings.
Populate your map over several days, letting your mind explore all the possibilities.
Play with the map and see how many circles you can get from the center.
As you fill in circles on your map, notice if it gets to be lopsided. Does a chapter subject not have enough topics to support it? You may need to reorganize or combine.
Does one chapter have a whole bunch of topics? Maybe it should be split into two.
Make sure you have at least three levels of detail from the center of your map (see example). If you find some ideas have appeared on your mind map that aren’t really applicable to your book you may want to create a new mind map for marketing ideas or other business ideas. You can go back to them once your first draft is finished.
The Mind Map is really helpful authors who have lots of ideas but don’t necessarily come up with their ideas in any discernible order. It’s a great way to get all your thoughts onto paper and explore the topics you want to cover. However, be aware that a Mind Map can become a distraction if you lose focus easily. It can also be very overwhelming if you are someone who really likes to have things in order.
Book Outline Method 3: Bullet Point Lists
If you make to-do lists and automatically group items according to where or when you plan on executing them, listing probably comes naturally to you. If you are a linear thinker or if you already have a good sense of the chapter subjects and chapter topics, this is probably the most efficient method to use to outline your book. If you have a good sense of what steps 1, 2, and 3 are in your book, start here.
How it works:
- Make a list of 10-12 bullet points that you want to discuss in your book.
- Create 3-5 sub points for each subject
- Write 3-5 words that will help you remember what each sub point means
- Just like the instructions for the above two methods, evaluate the subjects and topics. Cut or reorganize bullet points that are duplicated, don’t have enough sub points or don’t make sense in the context of the entire book.
- Reorganize the bullet points in an order that makes sense to you.
- 5K Book
- Importance of proper fitting
- Pronate vs. Supinate
- Arch support
- Cotton is Rotten
- Safety Gear
- Reflective Wear
- What your body needs while you run
- What your body needs after you run
- What to eat while you are training
- Training Programs
- Injury Prevention
- Slowly increase speed
- Slowly increase distance
Again, you can really see your book take shape when you do this and it’s probably exciting! You now have a map to overcome writers block before it ever starts.
Before you dive in and start writing there are a few other things you need to do though. The first is have someone else look at your book outline. Ideally it’s someone familiar with the subject or familiar with non-fiction book writing. Have them look at the outline to see if the flow makes sense to them. Do they feel anything is missing or too heavily covered? It’s your book, but another perspective is really important.
Once you feel confident you have the important details covered, identify research, stories, quotes and any other material you need to gather to write your book. Now you can sit down to write! Another day we’ll talk about the secret to finding time to write … but for now, you have one of the most important pieces covered – the topic you need to write about.
Every Book Launchers client works with a professional Writing Coach to help guide them through drafting an outline. The Coach then works side by side with the author to guide the writing, evaluate the content and keep the author on track. If you want to be the one that writes your book and you know you need some help and support, set up a call to tell us about your book. You could be a published author, selling your book and boosting your business in the next nine to twelve months. View our services here.