Some people who love writing will find that writing their first book is daunting and maybe even excruciating when they finally get around to starting it.This is not the same as having “writer’s block.” No matter what, after the first book has been done, any succeeding books will be much easier. It’s a learned skill, if not a natural skill. This is based on what you learn in the initial, first book writing process. The format might be different for fiction versus non-fiction, but I discovered a few organizing principles that help me write, whether it is a book or an article.
Table of Contents
Take the subject matter of your book and flesh out all the different aspects to it that you want to write about. Then you can decide what order these sub-topics will go in the book, if that is even necessary. For many non-fiction and instructional books, that would be vital, to go from Step A to Step B. However, I can see where there would be certain subjects that are so self-contained, that the sub-categories could go in any order. By definition, these sub-categories can become chapter sections.
By having a Table of Contents right from the start, this will keep you focused and with boundaries for what you will write about in each chapter. And even if you go overboard in one chapter, you could then see a natural division for a very large chapter and turn it into two chapters. In fact, many people start out with a book idea, organize the subject matter and discover that they really have more than one book’s worth of material.
I used to be a songwriter when I was in my teens and twenties. When you have a great song title to start with, the rest of the lyrics almost write themselves. I once wrote a country song titled, “I Know Your Man is Cheatin’ ‘ Cause He’s Cheatin’ With Me.” I bet you can already anticipate what kind of “evidence” or examples would be found in the verses of a song like this. The same can be true with a Table of Contents in place. It gives you the skeletal framework to begin with and the book writes itself.
This could also be applied to book proposal writing as well. When I was in middle school, if not elementary school, I was taught that each subject in an essay had a beginning, middle and end. And one form of writing includes introducing the reader to the topic being discussed, getting into the meat of the subject next and then summing up the topic in the last section. I have organized teaching classes this way as well.
The Order in Which You Write
Once you have the Table of Contents in place, you are now free to write the chapters out of order. It’s the chapter topics which create the boundaries and this gives you the freedom to write whichever chapter inspires you the most that day. Maybe there are technical or more complex things you want to get over with first, or save for last. Maybe there is a chapter which you can’t write off the top of your head and you need to do some research. My books have some areas with charts and illustrations. These can be inserted later. In other words, free yourself from the notion that you have to start by writing Page One and then continue in order until the book is done. You can now do these topics out of order and not feel like you have no organization in the project as a whole.
One time I was asked to write a mini-Feng Shui book for a book series. The constraints were very difficult to accommodate. This publisher wanted each chapter a certain number of pages, regardless of content! And each chapter had to have three equal-length sub-sections. This publisher also wanted a certain number of quotes inserted in each chapter. While I never would have shackled myself to write that way for my own self-published books, I took on the task for this other publisher just as a challenge to myself. It was almost like writing haiku!
One of the reasons this task was probably easier for me than other authors involved in the series, was that I borrowed from one of my own books, already organized, and just created kind of the “Cliff Notes” of that same material, re-constituted and abbreviated. The constraints of the physical lay-out of the book dictated that I could not plagiarize myself and nor would I want to just regurgitate the same material. I had to come up with a new, creative and shortened version of what I had already written.
Get Inspired-But Don’t Plagiarize
If you find that even writing out a Table of Contents or Chapter Headings is difficult, you may just want to start looking at all the books you have, or some of the books written on the same topic and see what their Table of Contents looks like. Try to be original and just start seeing the format in a conscious way, when it may have been completely unconscious before. It’s like me when I am about to buy a new car; normally I pay no attention to the make and models of cars except when I’m about to buy a new one. Then I am noticing for the first time what I’m seeing out on the road. When you consciously look at the organization in other books, you can then learn and glean from that for your own.
Author: Kartar Diamond
Company: Feng Shui Solutions (R) Since 1992
From the Tao of Organizing Blog Series