The Importance of Outlining

The process of ghostwriting a book is a long and complicated one. Even for a veteran writer, each new project begins with trepidation. In our business and preparation, it’s easy to forget that for many of our clients, this is their first time working on a book project. If the feeling of being overwhelmed affects us as writers, imagine how it makes our clients feel!

I’ve found that one of the best things you can do to center both you and your client throughout the book writing period is to put in the right effort, time, and energy into the book outline.

For me, the outline is much more than just a simple listing of the chapters and some sub-points. My goal when outlining is to create a template that contains everything I’ll need to write the book quickly and efficiently. I like to make it as comprehensive as possible.

The following are the components I like to see in every outline before I start writing.

The Book Sections

Because I write mostly non-fiction, business books, each book will generally have 2 to 5 sections that break up the content. I make sure we define the books large sections and flesh out the outline chapters from there.

The Book Chapters

Once we’ve established the book’s sections, we fill in each section with the chapters. This is an important step and will determine the flow of the book. Make sure each chapter flows from the one preceding it and builds on the book’s central subject. Titles, to me, are not important at this stage. They can be refined after the writing is finished. What’s more important is to list each title in the outline so that it’s clear what the chapter’s main idea is.

The Book Sub-Points

Once the chapters are fleshed out and the main idea determined for each, I flesh out each sub-point within the chapters. The sub-points are like chapters within chapters. Not only do they make the book more readable and scannable, they also help to break up the writing phase into manageable chunks and create a crystal clear path of thought throughout each chapter.

The Book Illustrations

Usually once I have the sections, chapters, and sub-points fleshed out and agreed upon with my client, I begin the interviewing process. The goal is to stick to the outline and basically talk through the whole book. I put a recorder down on the table and we start with the Introduction and work our way down the entire outline. The goal of this process is to tease out the actual content for each sub-point, including the application and illustrations. It’s key to get these, and to get them from the horse’s mouth. Because at the end of the day, the illustrations, stories, and examples are where your client’s voice will really shine through in the text.

Once the interviews are done, I transcribe them and pull out the best material to finish fleshing out the outline. Then, and only then, do I begin the writing process.

I’ve found that by taking the time to do the outline properly and comprehensively, I make the actual writing of the book the easiest part of the process. Because of all the groundwork I’ve laid with the client, the words are ready to spill out onto the page by the time I start writing and the manuscript takes shape very quickly. For example, on one particular book, I was known to punch out 20 to 30 pages in a sitting. I could never have accomplished that without a comprehensive outline.

How about you? What are some of the tricks you use to maximize your outlining process?

[Photo by jessicamullen]