How to Outline a Nonfiction Book
Have you ever started to write a nonfiction book only to give up halfway?
Some aspiring authors write a few chapters before running out of steam. While others fail to get started. These aspiring writers all face the same dilemma, the blank page. There are a few writers that manage to keep going and overcome the blank page, but their writing journey is like a never-ending battle. No one wants to reach the end of a first draft only to have to restructure the entire book. You’re reading this blog post because you don’t want to give up halfway. You also don’t want to face the nightmare of restructuring a book. You want to set yourself up for success. And that’s exactly what I am going to do in this blog post. I will discuss the exact steps you need to take to outline a nonfiction book.
What’s your solution?
In previous blog posts, we discussed writing for your readers and providing a solution to a problem. It’s now time to get clear on your solution and its details. To get clear on your solution, ask yourself the following question.
What does your reader need to know in order to achieve the results promised in your book description?
Take a few moments to write down the solution your ideal readers are looking for. This is a mind-mapping exercise, so make sure your solution is the top of the page. Write down all the ideas you have underneath. The purpose of this exercise is to get clear on the information your readers need to solve their biggest problem. Don’t worry about putting these ideas in a logical order. Just focus on getting your ideas out of your mind and onto the screen. To achieve a greater level of clarity you might want to consider doing this exercise in different sessions.
Once you’re certain you’ve captured all your ideas, it’s time to move on to the next step.
Create a Series of Steps
Spend a few moments sifting through all the ideas you came up within the previous step. Place the ideas into a logical and coherent order. Treat these ideas like individual steps on a staircase. Each step builds upon the step beneath. Are there any steps missing? It’s important to consider if you have all the information or steps required because these steps will become chapter topics. Take a few moments to consider the answers to the next two questions. Are there too many steps for one book? Or, is there a shortage of steps? If there is a shortage of steps go back and add the missing steps or information.
The next step is to turn these steps into chapters. Go through your list of steps and decide which steps or groups of steps should be chapters. Which steps will need a lot of explaining? These steps should be a chapter of their own. Do you need to group steps together? Group steps together that share a common goal, like setting up various social media platforms. Another example of this is in my book SMARTER Goal Setting. The steps to setting SMARTER goals are all together in one chapter because the steps are an acronym, and serve the same outcome, the setting of a goal.
Now that you’ve created a list of chapters consider the answer to the next question. Would any of these steps belong to a sequel? It’s important to check if you have too much information for one book. The reason for this is too much information leads to information overload. This leads to the reader not taking action and, as a result, not finding a solution to their problem. If you’ve had trouble deciding, go on to the next step. Once you get clear about the contents of the chapters you will get a clearer idea of whether you have too much information.
Write notes for each chapter.
Now that you have created an outline, write a summary describing the contents of each section or chapter. At this stage, all you need is one or two lines for each chapter. The one or two-line descriptions need, to sum up, the key points of each section and chapter. You may find it useful to create subheadings that you may want to cover in each section or chapter. This will help you write after and avoid writer’s block when writing your first draft. This outline isn’t set in stone. I know this is one of the biggest arguments against outlining. However, outlining makes the writing process quicker and more efficient. It leads to higher word counts achieved daily.
After you have written a description for each section or chapter, go through your outline and set a word count goal. This word count goal is to serve as a rough guide. It will help you to establish whether you have enough content for one book or too much content. When you set a word count goal, it’s important to keep in mind that one page of a paperback contains 250 words. Use this as a guide to guess how many pages of content your section or chapter will fill up.
Be open to change
It’s important to be open to change during the writing and editing process. An outline is just a guide to help you stay on track during the writing process. During the editing process, your book will change. As you self-edit your book sections might need deleting or added. If you start out with an outline, your book will more likely satisfy your readers, if you’ve created and outlined your idea with them in mind. In my book SMARTER Goal Setting, I ended up deleting one of my favourite sections of my goal setting chapter. It contradicted what I had previously written and didn’t fit in with the theme of the book. It was a hard decision to make but my book was better off without it.
As always, I have a few important questions for you. Are you guilty of diving into the writing process and giving up halfway through? What actionable steps are you going to take to revive your manuscript and go on to finish it? Or, perhaps you’re in the idea phase of writing and are moving on to create an outline. If, so come back and let me know how you got on with outlining your novel. I want to hear from you. let me know by sharing your experiences in the comments section below.
I’m Amelia. I write Mystery Novels under the pen name A. D. Hay. And, I’m the author of Missing, the first book in the James Lalonde series. On this blog, I help new writers to finish their first draft, prepare their manuscripts for professional editing, and when they get stuck in the first draft phase or are confused about the revision process. Right now, I’m editing and preparing my soon to be published mystery novels, Duplicity, 24 Hours, and Immunity for publication.