“I want to write a book, but I want it to be good.”
It’s something we hear from writers all the time. They don’t want to waste their time on something that won’t resonate with readers. They want to write something relevant. Something that makes sense to the people they’re writing to.
The problem is, writing doesn’t always “hit home” with readers. In fact, sometimes what’s on the page only makes sense to the author.
Have you ever read a book like this? It jumps through topics, takes tangents, and rehashes the same content over and over. You don’t trust the author. And you might not finish the book.
You don’t want to be this writer. And you don’t have to be.
When you set out to write a good book—something that resonates with your readers—our number one piece of advice is to write with an outline.
How an outline gets you a good book:
- Prevents you from writing in circles
Easily see what ground you’ve covered—and don’t repeat yourself!
- Allows you to edit in “chunks”
With your writing in sections, you can move parts around to edit large amounts of text without getting lost, yourself.
- Reveals gaps in content
An outline reveals where you need to do more research or prepare more content.
- Helps you edit down
See what stories and examples don’t support your main themes—and get rid of them.
- Saves you time
Be coherent the first time around.
“I don’t outline.”
Here are the most common excuses writers use to avoid the work of outlining—and why outlining is still worth it.
“I can never write with an outline: It never comes out the way I want it to sound. It sounds stiff.”
If you feel like your first draft sounds stiff, it probably does. And trying to stick to an outline might contribute to that.
Here’s the deal, though: “flow” does not always mean the writing is good. What sounds brilliant to you in the moment might actually not have much substance.
You can edit your writing later. Outlining gets the ideas in place and allows you to refine your writing. Get at the good ideas first and make the writing flow later on.
“I can never write with an outline: I only write when I’m inspired.”
This is the number one excuse writers give us. But it’s also what keeps writers stuck (and writing in circles) for way longer than necessary. The belief is that waiting for the feeling of inspiration will ensure that the writing magically arranges itself. This is simply untrue. Nothing can replace thoughtful organization. Instead of waiting for your muse, use the outline to direct your inspiration—you can work on parts and put them in the right place.
“I want this to sound artistic, not formulaic.”
We hear you on this one. Nothing is worse than boring writing. If the book plods along, with the readers anticipating every sentence, it gets snoozy fast.
But having a plan for your writing does not mean that your writing will be boring: having a plan makes your writing intentional. In fact, having a plan gives you the opportunity to make your writing most interesting, surprising, and artistic.
“I write in a stream-of-consciousness style that does not lend itself to structure.”
Some writing styles are more “wandering” or surreal than others. Stream-of-consciousness is one such example. Here’s the thing: art is made through a series of choices. However you choose to structure your writing, an outline provides intentionality to your choice. If you want to make your writing vague—if that’s what you want to communicate—go for it. But do it on purpose.
If you don’t outline, you run a high risk of losing your readers. Either they get lost in the circles, bored in the repetition, tripped up by the holes, or miss what you mean to communicate with your artistic choices.
Outlining is something we’re willing to stake a lot on: outlining can only help your writing. It’s the key to writing a good book.