Make Nonfiction Writing Easier with an Outline
When I started writing this blog at the beginning of the year, I also started writing my nonfiction book Beyond the First Draft—Editing Your Novel. I first decided that I was going to write a book and the blog about editing a novel. I knew that the book would include everything from the time I finished the first draft on to the finished product. I started the process with an outline.
I refined the topic down from editing any type of book down to refining a novel. I decided that with the material that I would use, I could edit any type of novel, not just historical fiction like I write.
Every nonfiction book benefits from the creation of an outline. By outlining your ideas before you start the writing process, a nonfiction book can have its facts laid out in a logical way before the narrative ever begins. The outline will make the work go faster because you won’t meander from one topic to another. Later, as you’re writing, If you have an idea for a certain part of your book, but you’re not to that part of the book yet, you can plug in that information exactly where it will go in the book thereby avoiding wasting time in a part of the book your mind has not processed yet.
Determine Your Book’s Specific Theme
In order for a nonfiction book outline to make sense, you must determine one central theme for the entire book. This theme must be developed into a refined thesis that can be stated in one sentence. Instead of looking at general topics (building a house), look for specific topics that can be covered (Plumbing for the average Joe). By having a specific thesis, you’ll be able to gather the necessary facts to make the key points you’ll want to make in your book.
Setup a Logical Content Progression
Some writers prefer to staple their pants to a chair and just write whatever comes to mind. I believe that those writers are heading for burnout and writer’s block. Not every writer can do that and I personally think doing so makes the work far more difficult than it needs to be, so a nonfiction outline should also involve a content plan. This will let you know where you intend to take your book before you begin the narrative. I think it helps to create a Table of Contents which will contain the various structures you wish to include in your book.
Imagine that you are looking at the finished book and you are looking at the table of contents. Think about what you will put in each chapter and in what order. Arrange it in the most logical order, if you realize something needs to be earlier or later in the book, rearrange the table of contents to reflect that change.
Using the Table of Contents as your basic outline, determine some of the information you will want to write about. Once you’ve done that, you’ll be much more prepared to begin writing.
Under each chapter heading, include topics that fit within that heading. Again rearrange subjects as necessary.
Jot Down Any Research
Once you have your Table of Contents in place, you’re ready to determine what kind of research you’ll need for your nonfiction book. You can write down this research next to each outline item. You may even wish to note where you want to do this specific research: online, at the library, or wherever.
If you need to do personal interviews for certain topics, write down some experts on this subject as well. You also may want to color code your research types onto your calendar using different colors for each type of research so that you can visually reference it quickly.
Create Writing Plan into Your Schedule
At this point, you’ll have a general sense of what needs to be done to complete your nonfiction book, so you can now plug this plan into your schedule. How many words per day are you going to need to write to reach your goals? How much time will you need to gather information for your book?
If you need to interview others, block out specific time during the week so you don’t have to rearrange your schedule. If you have no interviews during that time, use that as extra research or writing time.
Complete Your Outline
The writing process is much smoother when the nonfiction book outline and schedule include plans to research. Instead of hunting down the various documents, media, and recordings that you need for your book, you’ll have it all together in one specific place. Arrange your research materials into folders that are in the same order as the headlines in your table of contents.
This helps to improve your writing speed. The average writer types about 750 words per hour. With materials gathered, if you know how to touch type, you should able to reach 1,500-2,000 words per hour. If you’re forced to hunt down materials as you write, then you might be lucky to type 500 words per hour.
Staying Committed to the Process
Once you know how much you can write every day, you’ll have a ballpark idea about how long it will take you to write it. Schedule your day in such a way so that you can write your word count habitually. Make writing a habit. Sit down and write your book instead of watching television or chatting with your friends on Facebook.
If you write 1,500-2,000 words per day, using nonfiction book outline as your guide, you could have the first draft of your narrative completed in just 30 days. That’s why knowing how to write a nonfiction book outline is such a valuable skill.
Write Using the Outline
Creating an outline, but not using it is definitely a waste of time, but using it will save tons of it.
Use headings and subheadings for each chapter when formatting. Assign names to each chapter and be clear in the names of each subheading. Be sure to save the document.
Within each chapter and subheading, include several sentences to summarize that chapter or subheading. Include the main points of the chapter and each subheading. Be as detailed as possible in as few sentences as possible. Don’t worry that it changes as you create your outlines. You’ll find it easier to edit this outline now rather than having to edit out huge sections of material later if you realize that what you’re planning to write doesn’t fit.
Now that you know that you’ve got your summaries organized within each chapter, write a heading for introduction at the beginning of each chapter and then write main point 1, 2 and so on. If your nonfiction book is a how-to book, consider adding a call-to-action at the end of each chapter.
Use research material focused on the topic being written about as guidance through the outlining process. Let your outline act as a guide throughout the entire project to keep you from going down research rabbit holes.
If you think of a story that relates to your book, plug in a few words to remind you the story’s content. These often makes a good introduction to chapters and keeps the reader interested and more importantly reading.
My memoir, which is almost done, is the only non-fiction writing I have done since college…..I used a vague outline for it. Your tips are spot on, as the British are prone to say. 🙂
As I see it, an outline is just one of the tools in our writing tool box that helps us remain focused and productive as writers. Outlines don’t have to be the laborious project that our 7th grade English teachers graded us on.