I’m constantly learning new ways of organizing my thoughts and content, so today I want to share with you three possible solutions that will help you to organize your book ideas without losing your mind. Specifically, if you’ve been thinking about writing a book, you probably have dozens of ideas about what you want to put in that book. You probably have stories to share, concepts to explain, and practices to teach, but maybe you aren’t yet clear on how—or if—they all fit together. Try the following methods and enjoy a clearer path forward!
I honestly have no experience with mind mapping, but I’ve met too many authors and other business professionals who swear by it to not mention it here. The basic principle is simple: It’s a system of using visual notations to help you brainstorm the parts of your book and then figure out how they connect to one another. Mind mapping hinges on the relationships between ideas, which is a crucial element for organizing any good book outline. You can do this manually on large pieces of paper, drawing your idea representations and the lines that connect them, or you can use mind-mapping software.
Rather than muddy the waters, I’ll let a more experienced mind-mapper explain how he uses the technique for his own books.
Writing a nonfiction book is like working through a puzzle. You know what the end results should look like, more or less. You have tons and tons of pieces. From a distance, you can tell that some pieces group together while others are probably from completely different parts of the picture. But you still need to figure out how they all fit together. Unlike a jigsaw puzzle, writing a book often involves extra pieces that may not ultimately fit in the book at all, and hidden pieces that you don’t yet know you need! Sounds complicated, huh?
Scrivener makes it less so. I’ve been using Scrivener for about a year now and I still haven’t scratched the surface of this powerful tool. But for beginners, one of the best features of this program is its ability to capture your thoughts on “index cards” that you can then move around on a virtual “corkboard” to your heart’s content. I absolutely love this feature, which makes it much easier to organize your book ideas.
- It enables you to easily capture all the various ideas you have, even if you don’t end up using all of them.
- You can start to see, at a glance, where your ideas have common threads and may fit together in one chapter.
- Similarly, you will start to see where there are gaps and where you need to add some connective tissue.
- Drag-n-drop capability allows you to keep moving your “cards” around until you find a flow that feels logical and easy to follow.
Even better, as you start to draft your book, Scrivener’s “corkboard” feature attaches your drafted chapters and sections to its appropriate “card,” so you can continue to play with your book’s organization even as you write it.
The Old Fashioned Way
Some of you may find it strange to use a program that reproduces the experience of using index cards or sticky notes when you can just do it the old-fashioned way and actually use index cards and sticky notes. And, of course, this time-honored method works just fine! Here’s how you do it right:
- write down all of your ideas on cards or notes
- get yourself a flat surface such as a corkboard (best for cards—don’t forget tacks) or white board (best for stickies)
- start by arranging your cards/notes in groups of ideas that seem related to you
- as your groupings become more solidified, start moving the groups themselves around so that you can see the flow of one chapter or section to the next, and then the flow of ideas within each chapter/section
Though this method has produced great results for a lot of people, there are some real downsides to keep in mind.
- Do you have a dedicated space for your board? If not, playful pets and curious children may unravel all your hard work in minutes.
- Do you have a large enough surface so you can see what’s on each card/note at a glance? It can be harder to organize your thoughts if you can’t see them all at once.
- Do you have the dedication and attention to detail to make sure you keep your draft consistent with your card/note arrangement? One of the big benefits to using software tools is that it can correct for human error…like if you move a bunch of ideas into different groupings and forget to adjust your board to match, and now you’re adding redundant ideas or losing the thrust of your argument in the shuffle.
Of course, these methods are great for helping you organize your book ideas, but what if you simply can’t see the forest for the trees? It can be challenging to know what does and doesn’t fit into a book. You don’t want your reader to wade into a confusing hodge-podge that fails to engage her and lacks a coherent promise! To make matters more complicated, when you write a book designed to showcase your expertise and attract your ideal clients, you need to be very deliberate about the overall book concept. You want to choose the idea that’s going to best help you accomplish your immediate goals. Not all ideas are created equal, and while you may be itching to write on one topic now, it may be more strategic to write a different book first.
If you’re overwhelmed with ideas or aren’t sure which book concept is right for you and your business right now, I can help. About every two months I’m enrolling members in my Idea to Outline program, which gives you six weeks to walk along with me on a process similar to the one I use to help my ghostwriting clients choose and then flesh out an idea into an effective book outline. Get more details and schedule your free Discovery Session today.
Founder of The Writer’s Ally, Ally E. Machate is a bestselling book collaborator, award-winning editor, and expert publishing consultant who loves using her insider knowledge and experience with the publishing industry to lead serious authors toward success. She and her team live to help make great books happen, whether that means showing a writer how to improve a manuscript, get an agent, or self-publish; or coaching an author on growing her platform to sell more books. Since 1999, she has supported hundreds of authors on their publishing journey and takes pride in serving as their books’ best ally.