An Author’s Most Powerful Writing Tool – The Outline

Today I wanted to follow up on the previous post and the three key elements noted there, the first of which was learning that writing is NOT all about you – it is about learning to write with the intention of meeting the known needs of your readers.  It is easier to accomplish that objective by understanding the importance of an outline.  I know, “What about listening to our creative muses when they come to visit?”  Even that is possible when using an outline!  You don’t have to follow the structure line by line – it is just a strategically designed “scope” of what you want to make sure you offer your reader so nothing in your message that is really important gets missed or you don’t overwhelm with too much information!  When you write each of those individual “pieces” no structured flow is necessary.

Just think about it.  Here you are, all excited now that you have made the big commitment to put your voices in print; you are the motivated author and you are serious about your book as a business, and just want to get into an easy flow of putting your message on paper. Isn’t it reasonable to think that over the course of a couple hundred pages that you are going to get sidetracked and lose sight of your objective?  Even though your message may be extremely clear – in your head – you have to find a way to capture and contain those thoughts as they become your book. Taking the time to really brainstorm and organize your thoughts before you begin to write will save you  a lot of angst later, and actually open the doors for far greater creative expression throughout the process of writing your book.

Creating an outline allows you the time to consider all of the information you ultimately want to share with your reader.  It also serves as a red alert to reveal when you may be inclined to offer too much in one reading and allows you the perfect strategy of knowing what you can|will plan for subsequent books.  I was so excited with my first book I was writing about everything I had learned in twenty plus years.  Fortunately, I quickly realized I was headed toward War and Peace, and trust me – when it comes to self-development that just doesn’t work!   Personal transformation must come in small bites and if I hadn’t crafted my outline, I would have produced a beautiful book that sits on library shelves rather than engaging readers to expand who they are. The importance of an outline became clearly evident.

If you are writing a non-fiction book, which is the norm for most service professionals and entrepreneurs, the intention is to build the foundation of the knowledge and expertise you have to share, understand how you might have to offer beginner, intermediate and top-level information in different stages (books), and how to develop a natural flow for learning. Alternatively, if you are a fiction writer, the outline is critical for creating a timeline of character development and the little twists in plot that keeps your reader engaged.  Either way, you have a “story” to tell and that story has to have a natural flow that easily pulls the reader in at page one, and keeps him or her deeply engaged through that final page.

Aside from being able to lean more easily into the creative flow of your writing, knowing you can later “plug” the right material into the right section of the book, other significant benefits in being “organized” in your writing include:

  1. Finishing a manuscript that most closely matches your intention for bringing the best of your knowledge and expertise to a reader who needs an empowering solution to a specific problem!
  2. Finding clarity about the exact points you do want to include or leave for subsequent books and the size you want the book to be.  Keep in mind that you can’t have less than 68 pages in order to allow for the spline necessary to be accepted in book stores, and that a smaller book is more likely to be 125 pages and a standard one roughly 225-250 pages.
  3. Eliminating writer’s block.  Although I highly encourage the flow of creative writing, I have many authors who have thanked me profusely for engaging them in a breakthrough strategy session of creating an outline, noting it served to totally eliminate writer’s block – sometimes finding their inspiration in the little gaps appearing in their outline.

The process doesn’t have to be difficult or mind boggling and you don’t have to create the kind of work product required in English class.  If you work well by yourself, sit down and just start making a list of all the topics you want to cover.   Then take each one of those topics and decide what key points you want to deliver.  The next step is the fun part!  Write each of those topics and key points on sticky notes or index cards so that you can spread them out on a table where you can move them around and organize them in what you consider a natural sequencing of how you want to deliver your amazing wealth of knowledge!  Viola! You now have the constructs of your outline that can now be documented and followed throughout the course of your writing.  If you don’t work so well by yourself… touch base with your favorite Literary Strategist and schedule a breakthrough strategy session.  Don’t be surprised at the enhanced creative flow when two minds tackle your task!

Your outline actually becomes your table of contents so once you have written it out, take one last look at it – putting yourself in the place of your reader.  How does it feel to you from that perspective? When you read that table of contents, do you get the sense that a) something is missing that you’d really like to know, or b) there are some things that, as a beginner, might just be too much information?

I trust I have planted sufficient seeds of thought that you will reconsider the value of drawing on an author’s most powerful writing tool – the outline!  The next post will help you decide the format and details so you might want to subscribe and make sure you don’t miss information vital to the degree of success you can experience as a writer. Remember also the open door policy where your questions can be placed either in the comments section below, or sent via email to

Always… encouraging you to engage in positive, life-altering actions that will ultimately provide you with long-term, sustainable benefit.


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