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Before You Write Your Book, Get All Your Ideas Out

“I’m going to write a book!” 

It sounds so simple, right?

It’s easy to picture yourself sitting comfortably in front of a screen or a notepad with the words ‘chapter one’ at the top of the page and away you go. Chapter one gets finished first, then you move on to chapter two, then three, and so on. Before you know it, you've got a finished, fantastic book, right? 

There’s just one snag: ideas don’t come to mind in a convenient start-to-finish sequence. As you prepare to write your book, and throughout the entire process, you’ll no doubt get thoughts and concepts popping into your head at seemingly random times. If you're like me, they often come in the middle of the night when I'm trying to sleep. 

Almost nobody can write a book from chapter one onwards, in sequential order. In fact, trying to do that is a recipe for becoming ‘blocked’, or ‘stuck’. If you're like most authors, you will write your book in chunks, segments, or even chapters in non-sequential order, based on when inspiration comes.

This may seem disordered, schizophrenic, or wildly unorganized. It isn't. It's actually a key way to let your creativity flow in the way it works best for you. ​

Dump Your Brain Out

When you're ready to write your book, start by getting all your thoughts written down, in no particular order, just as they come to you. Sequencing can come later.

When you start to write your book, you need an initial ‘brain dump’ so you can think clearly afterward. Make a rough list of notes, ideas, topics, concepts, and thoughts you want to write about. A bullet point list is all you need. Write/type them in the order they come to mind. You’ll end up with several pages of notes in random order. Good. (If you prefer, speak into a voice recorder and use transcription software to put your words into a document.)

This glorious mess will help prevent you from forgetting anything, especially when (not if) your mind becomes fixated on one part of your book. You may find that you repeat yourself in this list. That’s OK. It can be edited later.

Brain dump

Categorize Ideas Before You Write Your Book

Go down your list and begin grouping concepts together. There are many ways to do this: if you put your ideas on index cards, you can shuffle them around, maybe by placing and moving them around on a bulletin or cork board. You can use sticky notes in much the same way. A friend of mine covered the walls of her home office with sticky notes containing the ideas for her book. Or, you can do what I do. 

Back in university, before I had regular access to a computer, each essay assignment of mine would start as a rough, abbreviated, handwritten bullet list of everything I thought needed to be said, including anything relevant from research.

I then drew matching symbols beside points that belonged together.

For example, the first point I wrote down would get an asterisk next to it. Any other list item that belonged with it also got an asterisk. For the next topic, I’d use a triangle. Then a square. Eventually every bullet point had an asterisk, triangle, square, cross, circle or star beside it. I had the basis of sections and paragraphs for an assignment. Next I decided what order the groups would go in. Then I numbered the points within the groups.

categorize ideas

Without yet writing a coherent sentence, I had the framework and overall order for my assignment. When I started writing, I had purpose, structure, and a solid understanding of where I was going with the project. 

Technology Helps

You don’t have to do your ‘brain dump’ this way, but you get the idea.

Today, with the advantage of Microsoft Word or Scrivener, you can move ideas around and group them loosely together in mere seconds. (Word and Scrivener are also helpful for formatting your book.) Don’t bother trying to transform them into prose yet. Just create clumps of ideas that belong together. Those clumps will eventually become paragraphs and chapters.

I will write more about skills with MS Word in another blog. But knowing how to use headings and a table of contents will be very helpful for navigating quickly through your manuscript and for moving entire sections easily.

Important note: Save your work every 5 minutes. You do not want to lose anything.

Keep Notes as You Write Your Book

When I wrote my own book, I had one master document that I slowly transformed from a loose collection of bullet point notes into my manuscript. Even as I began formatting the document, I kept rough notes at the beginning of the document until I found a place for each one. For about 80 percent of the time it took me to write my book, the first six to 10 pages of the document consisted of a list of notes.

You might keep your list at the end of the document. Or even in a separate document. Whatever works for you. Keep making notes throughout the entire writing process because more inspiration is bound to come and your thoughts will develop. Add them to your list. Don’t get bogged down with details, just jot them down.

So, get dumping. Take your maelstrom of thoughts and create a gloriously messy list. You’ll be much better placed for writing your book because it is much easier to categorize and sequence all your notes than to try remembering things you never wrote down in the first place.

Then it will be time to get your manuscript ready to publish. ​We have a free guide that can help. 

your manuscript

About the Author John Newell

John is a writer/editor, content marketing manager, singing coach and author of Let It Out, a handbook for vocalists. He has also launched a website to help others suffering with depression: www.depression-survivor.com. Aside from his lovely wife and children, there is nothing John loves more than turning a phrase until it catches the light.

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