how to outline a book

Outline Your Book: Write 10X Faster with This Technique!

This video is sponsored by Dibbly Create. Outbound links are part of affiliate programs where I’m compensated for any sale made through them. I appreciate your support and understanding.


how to outline a bookImagine writing your next book in months, weeks, or even days faster with one small technique. What if you could write ten times as fast using a very effective and proven strategy?

It’s outlining.

Before any of you pantsers tune out, I assure you this method won’t take away from your ability to write fluidly. Discovery writing is totally fine, and in fact, encouraged.

For you plotters, you’ll see how to cut down your planning and plotting time so you can write your next book. I don’t know about you, but I’ve got better things to do than spend the next month plotting my next book.

Rest assured, you’re in good hands because I’ve published over fifty nonfiction and fiction books over the past nine years with over twenty-nine book awards. So, I know a thing or two about writing efficiently while maintaining quality.

Pull up a chair, bookmark this video, and get ready to take some notes. Let’s get to it!

Benefits of Outlining

Have you ever gone bowling before? If so, have you noticed how some kids or older adults use bumpers? As you can imagine, people put up bumpers to make bowling easier for young children or inexperienced bowlers to knock down the pins. The bumpers prevent the ball from going into the gutters, ensuring that the ball stays on the lane and increases the chances of hitting the pins.

Much like the bumpers in bowling, a roadmap functions in the same way. We use maps to navigate from point A to point B with as little friction as possible. Not sure about you, but the less time I can spend in the car, the better. Yes, everyone should embrace the journey, but they shouldn’t have to suffer by placing themselves into grid locked traffic or pothole-covered back roads.

When I first started in this business a decade ago, I was a pantser—for those of you not in the know, it’s an author who “writes by the seat of their pants.” You’ll often hear pantsers called discovery writers too. My first book took one year to write because I simply sat down and just wrote what came off the top of my head.

Looking back, the biggest problem was I spent a lot of time churning out a manuscript that was riddled with issues, redundancies, and clear key points. This even applies to the first fiction books I ghostwrote from 2015 to 2016. I just had a rough idea of what I wanted and where I should go.

I guess it’s no surprise my fiction books came out like ramblings of a madman and my nonfiction books read like verbal diarrhea. Yeah, I know. That’s gross. And the worst part about it, I put myself through needless suffering in long hours of writing without purpose. Or staring at a screen wondering, “What the hell do I write next?”

You shouldn’t consider an outline as rigid as bowling bumpers. If for some reason, you throw your ball into another lane, you can easily course correct your future turns and get your book back on track. Much like a roadmap, you have the flexibility to choose multiple paths, so don’t feel you have to stick to the plan.

Then again, it all depends on the weight you put in your outline. Discover writers don’t have to take it too seriously, whereas plotters can thrive within the structure of an outline.

Bottom line: Using an outline helps identify gaps and inconsistencies in your story or manuscript, ensuring a smoother writing process.

Killing Writer’s Block & Saving Time

Get to the point! I hear you and I get it. But if you don’t understand the purpose and value of an outline, you won’t even listen to my advice, anyway. Stick with me for another couple hundred words and you’ll then get why I’m hard-selling you on outlining. If you’re already sold, then it’ll only strengthen your resolve.

Most contractors rely on a blueprint—a detailed map that guides the construction of a house, specifying the layout of rooms, as well as the installation of pipes and wires. Housing permits and legalities aside, experienced contractors can and sometimes do deviate from the original plan. The primary infrastructure, such as the foundation or the framework, typically remains intact while experienced contractors can and sometimes alter the other smaller elements.

I’m sure every author’s first book took a long time to write, but mine took especially long because I didn’t have the framework in place. Often, I’d have to re-read chapters to know where I was going or stare at the screen, trying to figure out the next logical passage to write.

I find every time I outline a book; I complete the project in record time. There’s no exception. When I don’t have the framework in place, either writer’s block intervenes or perfectionism takes over. This leads to fatigue, burnout, and even anxiety. Having the blueprint to my book makes all the difference. It’s like having up those bumpers at the bowling alley.

Come on, you can’t lie. When the bumpers are up, it’s so tempting to hurl a ten-pound ball down the alley for a guaranteed strike. I know it’s tempting for me.

An outline quite simply diminishes the likelihood of writer’s block over the long term and also keeps authors on track to finish a manuscript within a reasonable timeframe.

Writing & Formatting an Outline

I’m going to show you a couple of old-fashioned way of doing outlines, and a more modern approach that’ll save even more time.

First off, how you draft your outline doesn’t matter, so long as you do it in a way that’s easy for you to understand and remember for future use. This could be with a blank notepad and pen or a separate document. Me, personally? I’ve been using Dibbly Create for all my writing needs lately. In each project it breaks up into two sections. One for chapters and the other for notes. I’ll draft all my outlines there. It’s then easy for me to pull out the relevant outline based on the content I’m writing.

Brain dump everything you have in your mind about what you’ll want to write. This doesn’t have to be very pretty and again, you’re not shooting for perfection. Fiction authors might find it best to honor the three-act method—the beginning, middle, and end. For nonfiction authors, think about who your audience is, what is their problem, and how you can solve it.

The traditional outline format is much like a hierarchical tree where you lead with the main point or chapter heading. Then, it breaks down into various sub-points. And, off each of those sub-points, you create additional breakdowns to better define what the chapter covers. Take your brain dumped content and organize it in the most sensible order possible.

Fiction authors should think about what beats you want to hit and the overarching theme that drives the plot forward. For nonfiction authors, it’s all about dissecting every major point into minor points so the reader can follow along and stay interested in your book.

For my fiction work, I like to sort out the characters, their motivations, what’s happening, and what’s the direction I’m taking the story. I like to write brief passages about each scene and will usually quickly draft something that resembles the direction I’m going. For nonfiction work, I ask exploratory questions until I get to the bottom of the reader’s problem and my solution.

I’ve known quite a few authors who’ll draft pages of an outline, some even being novella length. Then, they’ll go back and fill in the bones with more texture and depth.

For me, an outline is like a list of bullet points, merely a hopping off point. I don’t spend too much time writing more than a line or two of details. If I have to dive deeper, I just break them out into smaller micro-points.

Over the past decade, I’ve rarely spent longer than a week on outlining. And that’s not a lot of focused work. If I’m hard-pressed to crank out an outline, I can do it in a few hours for a 30,000- to 50,000-word manuscript.

But what if you’re strapped for time? Here, check this out.

Your Secret Weapon to Outlining

Over the past five months I’ve leaned on Dibbly Create to generate outlines using their AI-powered assistant, KIP. All I have to do is start a project, click the KIP icon in the top right, then select outline. From there, I choose the audience type, fiction or nonfiction, number of chapters, number of words, my book title, genre of book, and an explanation of a book.

That’s all well and good, but why don’t we take Dibbly Create’s Outline Tool for a test ride? I’ll try fiction and nonfiction. And while I’m doing this, you can get access to Dibbly Create when you visit my affiliate link at DaleLinks.com/DibblyCreate.

For fiction, I filled in the following details:

  1. Audience Type: Adults
  2. Explanation Of Book: In the story, a man finds out he’s a werebear after a late night shift working at a factory. He’s in love with a woman who seems out of his league. His love interest is getting mugged one night when he rescues her in his werebear form. But, he doesn’t want to tell her it’s him.
  3. Genre Of Book: paranormal romance
  4. Number Of Chapters: 15
  5. Number Of Words: 50000
  6. Title: The Werebear I Loved
  7. Type Of Book: Fiction

The output was simply incredible, having delivered over 8,436 words, covering all aspects. Here’s the main plot:

In the town of Everwood, a man named Ethan discovers that he is a werebear after a late night shift at the factory. He has been secretly in love with Sarah, a beautiful and mysterious woman who seems out of his league. One night, Sarah is attacked by muggers, and Ethan instinctively transforms into his werebear form to save her. However, he decides to keep his true identity hidden from her, creating an emotional and secretive connection between them.

Dibbly Create broke down every element imaginable with subplots, a premise, target audience, characters, locations, and so much more. Rather than tie up this blog post with 8,000 additional words, I’ll send you to have a peek into my project folder on Dibbly Create. You can have a peek around at how it looks. DaleLinks.com/Example

For nonfiction, I filled in these details:

  1. Adults
  2. Explanation Of Book: I want to write a book about how to write an outline, why it’s important and any other factors that could help a beginner.
  3. writing and publishing
  4. outlining a book
  5. 12
  6. 30000
  7. How to Write an Outline for Beginners
  8. Non-Fiction

This outline came back with over 4,432 words that covered everything from the subtitle to key reader takeaways to a chapter-by-chapter breakdown of the book.

Here’s the description it provided:

“How to Write an Outline for Beginners,” is a comprehensive guide aimed at beginner writers and authors who want to understand and master the art of outlining a book. It provides clear instructions, examples, and strategies to help readers create effective outlines for their writing projects, emphasizing the importance of outlining in the context of successful writing and publishing.

Is it perfect? No, but it is a great starting point that I can refine as I produce my book. Again, to see the report and outlines that Dibbly Create generated, visit my document at DaleLinks.com/Example. No catch.

After the Outline

Give yourself a little lenience if this is your first time outlining a book. You should view your outline the same way you do a first draft—it’s just a starting point, nothing that needs to be perfect or permanent. By now, you should have a rather deep outline that could span a single page or maybe an entire section of a notebook.

Once that outline is done, strike while the iron is hot—start writing immediately. Since the ideas and concepts are fleshed out, you can easily hop right into it. The beauty of an outline is if you want to cherry pick certain chapters or passages, you can. Then, build out from there. I think of writing with an outline like putting together a puzzle. Sure, I’ll get the outside border laid out for the puzzle, but once I get to work, I find the easiest piece to connect. Those quick victories make all the difference in completing a puzzle now versus months from now.

If you’re a bit more structured, then don’t be afraid to move your way through your outline chronologically. The biggest mistake a lot of authors make is believing there’s only one way to write a book.

Just write it. That’s all you’ve gotta do. Put pen to paper, and just make it happen. Treat it like a conversation with a long-lost friend where you speak with unbridled enthusiasm and unparalleled passion. Spare no details, but keep those notes readily available so you don’t lose your friend’s attention.

That outline will keep you from bloviating. It’s a huge reason I script a lot of my videos and the funny part is I use this very structure to outline every script.

If you’re ever stuck on how to outline your book or need to flesh out better concepts and ideas, then check out the previous post in this eight-part series where I show the secrets of how I write and publish books efficiently.

 

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