After months or years of research and experience in a particular field or practice, you are ready to share your knowledge and findings in a book. For many new writers, figuring out how to start writing the book is challenging. Some writers work best with the aid of a structured outline that lists all of the proposed content in each chapter of the book they are writing. From personal experience, one such tool that can be very helpful in developing a detailed and structured outline is the mind map.
To create a simple mind map, draw a small circle in the middle of a standard letter page. Make the circle big enough to write a few words representing the purpose or vision of your book. For example, include phrases like, “How to Build a Deck” or “Music and Cognitive Development”. This phrase needs to represent the primary purpose of the content of your book, and not necessarily the title of the book. Next, draw a series of circles representing the proposed chapters and write the chapter name in each. Spread these circles around the outside of the page, evenly spaced and surrounding the circle in the center, that is, the purpose. Now draw a line connecting each chapter circle to the purpose circle. You now have a simple mind map with the basic outline of a book.
Now let’s look at how you can use this technique to expand and develop the outline of the book to include two levels of detail about the content of each chapter. First, select a room in your home where you can dedicate the walls for a week or two to the mind map project. You will find that a room that is close to your kitchen and family room provides easy access and a constant reminder of your mind map project. Purchase a stack of large, poster-size sheets of paper. The self-sticking easel pad pages used in flip chart presentations work very well. Blue painter’s masking tape will also do the job. Paste pages at eye level on the wall around the room, one for each chapter and leave space for a few chapters that you have not yet imagined.
Using a fine pointed permanent marker, like a Sharpie®, draw a circle in the middle of each page. Be careful not to use a heavy marker, or you’ll bleed ink through the paper and onto the wall. Go around the room in sequence and write the purpose of that chapter in the circle in the middle of each page. Your How to book chapters may look something like Prologue, Introduction, Planning, Tools, Design, Build, Cleanup and Other Resources. As mentioned earlier, working through this process may reveal additional chapters. You can easily rearrange pages and place them in the correct sequence to accommodate any changes.
Once you have a basic idea of the first level of your book outline as defined by the chapter names, you are ready to begin expanding on the content of each chapter. Focus on one chapter at a time, and as you think about the key topics to be covered, draw circles around the outer edge of the page and write the name of the topic in them. Draw lines connecting the outer circles to the circle in the middle.
When thinking of topics, we often immediately think of sub-topics, subsets, or different aspects of the subject that should be included. That is where the connecting lines from the outer circles to the center come in. On the line below a topic circle, simply write the words or phrases that represent the next level of detail you want to include in the chapter that discusses that topic.
Proceed this way with each chapter and each topic, and soon you will have a detailed outline of your book mapped out in a visual form on the walls of your room. The beauty of this format, and of having it displayed on your walls, is that it doesn’t force you to generate ideas for content in a sequential process as a list might do. Leave the pages on the walls and make a habit of walking along the walls staring at the pages for each chapter at least twice per day. You’ll be surprised how many new ideas you write onto the pages over a two-week period.
Ideas often show up randomly, while watching television or eating breakfast. As this occurs, simply walk into the mind map room, write it on the appropriate page, and go back to your previous activity. The ideas will not be lost and you will always place them in the appropriate context. Curious family members and friends will peruse the mind map wall and offer suggestions for content to add to your outline. Welcome and encourage their support.
Finally, when you believe your outline is sufficiently complete, bring your laptop computer into the room and type the outline in the form of the book, each chapter starting on a new page, with all of the pertinent topics and sub-topics listed in each chapter. You are now ready to write your book and you already have a detailed outline to guide your work. Write on!