For many, writing a book is an intimidating process. The idea of creating 30,000 or more words on a single topic is daunting. And this is where most people stumble.
They never finish their book.
In this article I show you how to outline a book so that you can write your first nonfiction book in as little as four weeks.
Here’s what I’ve learned through writing and publishing nine books… the writing part doesn’t have to be difficult. I’m going to break the whole process down for you so that you not only finish your book quickly. But also write a book your readers love.
Why You Need A Book Outline
Outlining is key to getting your book finished. A strong outline does two things:
- Breaks your book down into manageable chunks.
- Ensures your book delivers on the big promise or transformation your reader longs for.
A great outline takes your readers on a journey, from where they are now to where they want to end up. The final stage in the journey is the outcome (or big promise) your book delivers on.
And if you aren’t yet clear on the outcome your book delivers then read this post about the number one secret of successful writers. You MUST get this right before you do anything else!
Okay, you know who you are writing for and why they should read your book? Excellent, you’re ready to start outlining.
Think of your book outline as a map. It guides your reader on a journey. It also shows you, the author, what you need to create and in what order.
Let’s dive in and outline your first nonfiction book.
Brainstorm Your Book Ideas
Start by brainstorming everything you want to include in your book. This can be sub-topics, examples, stories, case studies, etc.
There are many brainstorming techniques. I like to create a mind map when I brainstorm. A mind map is a big circle in the center of the page with lots of connecting circles. Here’s an example mind map I created back in 2016 for my first book, Make Money On Airbnb.
The following is an overview of my mind mapping process. Feel free to adapt it to how your brain works.
The beauty of mind mapping is that it frees your brain to create. So, don’t be rigid in following each step. Do what works for you.
- Start by deciding what tool you want to use for your mind map. I prefer pen and paper because I think best with a pen in my hand. You can also use post-it notes (write each idea on a separate post-it note) or a free software tool (such as XMind or Coggle).
- Next, draw your book topic in a central circle. Starting in the center gives your brain freedom to spread out in all directions – let your thoughts flow!
- Start writing your ideas around the central circle. These ideas are called branches. Don’t censor yourself – you can always delete ideas later.
- Connect your main branches to the central circle and connect your second- and third-level branches to the first and second levels, etc. Your brain works by association – it likes to link two (or three, or four) things together. By connecting the branches, you’ll understand and remember a lot more easily.
- Keep adding ideas until you run out of steam.
- Work on your mind map over several days. This allows your subconscious to come up with new ideas that you can add to your mind map.
How To Outline A Book
Once your ideas are out of your head, it’s time to organize them. Depending on your book topic, this can be a straight forward process… or it can be painful.
Sometimes, there are multiple ways to organize your book ideas and you can agonize over finding the best outline. Try not to let your inner perfectionist prevent you from finalizing your outline.
Here are the steps to create an outline from your mind map:
- First group related ideas together. You can do this by numbering or color-coding ideas on your mind map. If you’re using post-it notes, you can move them around on a big wall or on the floor. Your idea groups are your chapters.
- As you group ideas you may notice that some of them don’t seem to fit anywhere. These ideas may need to be scrapped. Ask yourself whether they are useful in achieving the promised outcome your book delivers on. If they aren’t, leave them out of your outline. You can always include them in your next book!
- Once you have your ideas grouped, you want to put them into a sequence. For a nonfiction book, a good way to do this is to think about the journey you want your reader to experience. What information do they need to learn first? What steps should they take, and in what order, to achieve the promised outcome? You may need to try several outline ideas before you find one that flows.
- For a longer book, you can also group chapters into sections.
By the way – the above is the same process I use when outlining a blog post. Writing a book is no more difficult than write 10 or 20 long form blog posts. You can do it!
Review Your Book Outline
Congratulations, you’re nearly done. Now, I want you to review your outline. It’s important that you have a solid outline that you can commit to. This will help you write your book more quickly and write a book your readers love.
As you review your outline, ask yourself the following questions:
- Does each chapter have one main idea?
- Does each chapter meet one goal that is part of the entire end goal for the book?
- Does the entire book have a logical sequence that takes the reader through a transformation to achieve the promised outcome?
- Are there any ideas or chapters that don’t fit with the promised outcome or book premise?
When you’re happy with your outline, copy your chapter headings into a document or spreadsheet. Somewhere you can track your progress. This will help you stay motivated as you complete your book.
Also, don’t worry too much about your chapter titles at this stage. I create compelling chapter headings once I’ve finished writing a book. The important thing right now is to get that first draft of your manuscript written.
Creating your book outline is an important step. If this is taking time, don’t worry about it. The effort you put in now will pay off once you start writing. Here’s a recap of the steps to create your book outline:
- Do a brain dump of all the ideas you have for your book using the mind mapping strategy (or another brainstorming strategy that works for you).
- Organize your ideas into a sequence that makes sense to your reader and will take them on a journey from where they are now to the end result your book promises.
- Capture your outline in a document so that you can track your progress as you write your book.
You now have all you need to quickly write your first draft. So, don’t wait – get started today!
If you’d like to learn more about writing and self-publishing a bestselling book, check out my ultimate guide here. It walks you through the exact steps to write and publish a nonfiction book that flies off the shelves.