How Structure Creates Depth

How Structure Creates Depth

Creative energy is like water. It flows, and it follows a path. Often, that path is the one of least resistance; the one that feels natural and easeful. 

If we let our creativity flow unchecked, it can lead us to some new and unusual places. Sometimes, those places are amazing. Sometimes, they're dead ends. Sometimes, they feel like they're barely in the same universe where we started. 

This creative flow can be incredibly valuable when we are exploring new territory as writers. However, if we don't see it for what it is, it can also create some pretty interesting problems in our writing. 

You see, water, like creativity, will flow until it's contained - but only when it's contained will it begin to gain depth. 

What a First Draft REALLY Looks Like

What a First Draft REALLY Looks Like

New writers seem to be divided into two camps when it comes to their first drafts. 

The first camp is comprised of those who are intent on making their first drafts perfect. They obsess during the initial writing process about the way that their ideas flow. They censor and edit themselves as they write, and often feel stuck when it comes to creating new material. more, they feel defeated when what they've created isn't "perfect," and needs to be revised.

The second camp is made up of those who get attached to their writing. They think that, because they wrote their content a certain way the first time, said content is sacrosanct and shouldn't be changed. This hampers them in their revisions because it prevents objectivity.   

Neither camp is "bad" or even "wrong." Both are full of writers who are doing their best to create their books. But both sides labor under a fundamental and potentially harmful misconception: that a first draft is (or should be) only a quick proofread away from a finished piece of writing. 

How to Write a Killer Outline for Your Book - And Why You Need to Do It

I know, I know. Outlining. Ugh. 

I used to feel the same way. But in the decade since I started writing professionally, I've fallen in love with outlines. (It isn't even a passive-aggressive relationship anymore!)

Outlines are the most powerful way to streamline your book's contents in accordance with your overall topic, message, and intended reader outcome. They offer a way to see the forest instead of just the trees, a way to study the landscape before you go exploring. 

I used to think that I could keep everything about a book straight in my head—that I could just sit down, start writing, and create something that would serve my clients and readers. After all, my on-the-fly approach was working just fine for articles and blogs, (except when I started on one topic and ended up writing about something totally different—but hey, ART!), and I was getting great feedback on my shorter pieces.

But, as I soon discovered, books are different.

First, they're just bigger. There's a lot going on, and a lot of ground to cover. That alone requires a shift in thinking. 

Second, books are not just a series of self-contained chapter-articles, but rather a long arc of information that culminates in a transformation of some kind for readers. This requires many moving parts that intersect in a rational and linear way. In order for a book to do its job for its audience, each section needs to build on the one before. (And yes, for those of you who are wondering, this is true for fiction as well. The best fiction writing uses cumulative plotting, which creates a buildup of tension and culminates in a climax which allows readers to be transformed along with the characters.) 

And finally, books offer more substance and depth than articles and essays. The format allows for the exploration of multiple concepts, arguments, examples, stories, and questions that relate to the main topic and intended reader outcome—all of which need to be balanced and offset by one another in order to make sense and propel the reader forward. 

This complexity is why good planning is so important. 

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There's a statistic that asserts that 97% of people who start writing a book never finish it. I wasn't able to find any details as to WHY those 97-percenters didn't complete their work, but I can make an educated guess as to what stymied the majority: a lack of planning and commitment.

The first book I tried to write without an outline turned out to be a steaming hot mess. The narrative was confused and tangled, and I lost the thread of the concept somewhere around Chapter 3 due to major digressions and tangents that felt really important at the time, but had nothing to do with my original vision for the book.

Obviously, I never finished even a first draft. I'm pretty sure those three horrible chapters are still rotting away in my backup folders somewhere. If I want a good laugh, I'll probably read them again someday. 

The lesson here is, writing without a plan is, at best, like shooting arrows in the dark. At worst, it's like wandering without a map or GPS in an unfamiliar, trackless landscape. You might recognize some landmarks in the distance, but once you're deep in the woods, it's hard to know how to reach them, let alone carve a straight path. 

Your outline is your book's navigation system. It allows you to plot your steps so that they're more efficient, and get you (and your readers) to your destination faster. After every writing session, you can check in with it to make sure you're still heading in the right direction. When you get lost or frustrated, it can literally be a lifeline. 

And so, I present to you my stripped-down, simple, easy-to-follow outlining plan. 

Enjoy!

Outlining Plan for World-Changing Books

Decide what you're teaching, and how you plan to teach it. 

In my course, Cover to Cover: How to Write Your World-Changing Book in 8 Easy Steps, I call this plan your "Information Delivery System." When you create a step-by-step curriculum for your readers, you can more easily help them create the results your book is promising. So rather than approaching your own process in a cavalier way, take the time to understand what, how, why, and for whom you're sharing your knowledge, and in what order you need to present your information so that readers can follow a path to real results (and you can prove your expertise). 

 

Organize your stories, statistics, studies, and other information according to your Information Delivery System. 

Chances are, you already have some idea about the stories, discussion points, and subtopics you want to explore in you book. Sort these according to your "reader curriculum" so you know where they will appear in your book, and what you need to introduce beforehand for these pieces of information to be most effective. 

 

Create chapter templates

If you've read a lot of inspirational, how-to, self-help, or other books aimed at helping readers create change, you may have noticed that most of the chapters in each book follow a similar format. I call these formats "chapter templates." So, not only do you need a cohesive plan for your whole book, you need a plan for each chapter that tells you where certain types of information appear and how they are explored. (For example, do your action steps go at the end of the chapter, or are they placed throughout? Does each chapter open with a story, or a discussion of new concepts?) This type of structure helps readers find information more easily, anticipate what's coming, and assimilate concepts more easily. 

 

Put it all together

Create a bullet-point list, mind map, post-it vision board, or any other type of outline that speaks to you, using all of the components above. Refer to it every time you sit down to write to stay focused and on target through your entire book project! 



Bryna René Haynes is the founder and President of The Heart of Writing, the chief editor for Inspired Living Publishing, and the best-selling author of The Art of Inspiration: An Editor's Guide to Writing Powerful, Effective Inspirational and Personal Development Books. In over a decade as a writer, editor, ghostwriter, designer, and publishing consultant, she has helped hundreds of authors find their authentic voices and create powerful, memorable, successful works. She lives outside of Providence, RI, with her husband, Matthew, and their little Moonbeam, Áine. 

The 8 Steps of Book Creation

The 8 Steps of Book Creation

Writing a book isn't as simple as putting together a bunch of content and calling it a day. An effective, targeted, memorable, world-changing book needs a bit more nurturing than that. 

When you write a book, you aren't writing for yourself. You're writing for your readersyour audience, who in some cases may also be your ideal clients. You need to consider not only what you know, or what you want to share, but what they need to know in order to create the results you're promising in your book. 

That's why great books merit a great book creation strategy. 

Why the World Needs You To Write Your Book in 2017

Why the World Needs You To Write Your Book in 2017

I've spoken to dozens of authors in the last couple of months who have declared, "2017 is going to be the year I write my book!" 

I think that's awesome - but not for the reasons that immediately come to mind. Yes, a book will help to boost your business. It can be a killer lead magnet, a way to expose your work to a global audience, and a way to establish your expert status in your niche. A well-executed book makes you look like a superstar. 

But although those are all great reasons to write a book, that's not why I think you should do it, and do it now. 

What Makes Readers Finish, and LOVE, Your Book?

What Makes Readers Finish, and LOVE, Your Book?

I had a conversation with a friend recently who said that, although she usually pushes through to finish every book she starts, she had to give up on the latest inspirational book she was reading. 

Of course, I immediately needed to know who, what, and why. Part of how I serve my clients is learning what works for readers and what doesn't! In this case, I'm keeping the who and the what secret, because I think everyone should form their own opinions about the books they read, but the why she shared was the inspiration for this post. 

My friend put down this particular book for two reasons: because parts of it felt overtly "salesy," and because although the title was catchy, the book itself was totally uninspiring. 

I understood immediately. Uninspiring content and overt sales pitches are two BIG reasons why someone might ditch a book mid-read. Other things, like poor editing and disorganized content can likewise make readers throw up their hands in frustration. 

Okay, all of that makes sense, but you don't just want readers to slog through your book. You want them to love it. You want them to rave about it. You want your brand, your expertise, and your knowledge to be elevated in their eyes, because your book was so friggin' awesome.

So, how do you create a book that is un-put-downable, unforgettable, and totally rave-worthy? You take the most common traits of unfinishable books, and turn them on their heads!