Are Outlines a Waste of Time for Nonfiction Writers?

photo courtesy of ivorymix


Many of us haven’t written one since our last high school or college English class. I can remember dreading the thought of having to write one. And if a teacher required one prior to writing the first essay draft, I would silently roll my eyes (in my head of course because my mama taught me better than to disrespect my elders!). 

I thought outlines were just a big waste of time. I mean, if you’re a true writer, you should just let it all flow, right?

Not necessarily.

Outlines can be life-saving, and I’ll tell you why.

Outlines Help Writers Create Structure

Just like those exciting essays in high school and college, writing a book requires structure. Some people would argue that structure is against the creative nature of writers, but I beg to differ. Writers can still be creative while using a structured format. In fact, I would encourage writers to infuse their personality into their writing. Let your readers know you are human! 

Think of an outline as a road map. Like a road map, an outline is merely meant to ensure your readers have a clear path getting from one point to the next. It helps you make sure you are indeed getting across the message you intended. Outlines also help you guard against wondering what to write about next. I don’t know about you, but that’s a great feeling for me! This doesn’t mean that if another great point comes along during the writing process, you can’t incorporate it. Just make sure it aligns with your overall message and doesn’t distract or detract from your goal.

Outlines Help Writers Have Enough to Say

There are different approaches writers can take when writing a book outline. Some prefer to write a general outline with only major headings for chapters, while others (like myself) prefer a more detailed outline with subheadings and supporting examples. 

Writing a 40,000+ word nonfiction book can seem like a daunting and overwhelming task initially. However, using a highly structured outline can help first timers ensure they are on track to meeting their word count goal. When writing a heavily detailed outline, be sure to include as many supporting examples as you can think of, and don’t be afraid to incorporate a bit of research into your work (while properly citing it of course!). 

What to Do When You Need Help

Writing an outline for the first time may be intimidating and confusing for some nonfiction writers. You may know what you want to talk about, but may need help hashing out your ideas. If this describes you, you’re not alone. I’ve felt this way many times while cranking out papers for grad school! It was always more difficult to write papers when I lacked organization and clarity about my message. So I knew if I wanted to have a better experience when writing my book, 11 Ways to JumpStart Your Thinking, I had to create a solid outline with just enough details to keep me focused and on track to getting my message across. An outline also helped me realize if I had enough content to write about so I could meet my word count goal.

Since I know how difficult it can be to organize your thoughts at times, I have a book idea to outline workbook for aspiring nonfiction writers. If you're a self-starter who just needs a little guidance on structuring your masterpiece, then this workbook is for you. If you need a smidge more help, I also offer one-on-one coaching for aspiring nonfiction writers who need help creating an outline for their book. In this coaching package, I dedicate 90 minutes to helping writers find their purpose for writing, identify their ideal reader, organize their thoughts and create an outline they can be proud of. We also take a look at your schedule, and determine when you can realistically devote time to writing--even if you’re like me and have a spouse, kiddos, and a million and one other commitments! 

If you’re finally ready to get your idea out of your head and onto paper, then I invite you to learn more about my process and book your session here. It’s time to turn your idea into words, and your words into a book!