You’re reading this post a week later than I originally tended. I couldn’t complete the first draft of this blog post for a very simple reason, I hadn’t organized what I wanted to say before I started writing!
As a result, last Sunday, I wasted a couple of valuable hours, missed an important deadline, and did a pretty good job of getting stressed out.
Don’t let this happen to you! Let me share some of the easy ways you can organize your ideas for articles, blog posts, books, and ebooks before you begin writing! Choose one of the options below, and make it a daily habit.
Taking the time to organize your ideas before you begin writing can spell the difference between writing a brand-building book or never getting published!
Organization and writing
Organization must precede writing. Organization provides a structure for your writing. Organization helps you “test drive” the sequence and relevance of your ideas.
Most important, organization eliminates uncertainty and promotes strong, concise writing that supports the message you want to share. Organization also helps keep you enthusiastic and motivated by making it easy for you to track your progress as you write.
Options for organizing your ideas
In a previous Author’s Journey blog post, How to Create a Content Plan for Your Book, I showed how I used mind mapping software to develop my latest book, #Book Title Tweet: 140 Bite-Sized Ideas for Compelling Article, Book, and Event Titles.
The mind map, above, represents the difference between last Sunday’s “f and f,” i.e., failed and frustrating, writing experience and today’s smooth and enjoyable writing experience.
Although I’ve written a lot about using mind mapping as a writing tool, including a 5-part blog series about creating a writing dashboard, you don’t have to use a mind mapping software program to organize your ideas before you begin to write.
Another advantage of mindmapping software is the ability to export your mind maps to your word processing program, which eliminates unnecessary typing.
10 other ways you can organize your ideas
In addition to mindmapping software, you can also organize your ideas using a variety of low-tech and software tools, including:
- Index cards. One of the classic “hands on” organizing techniques that authors have used for decades is to write important ideas and details by hand on index cards. The index cards are then displayed on the walls of your office, where you can easily add and delete cards and rearrange their order.
- Sticky notes. Another popular solution includes sticky notes, such as ©3M Post-it® notes, small squares of paper with an adhesive strip on the back that can be applied to walls or other surfaces. Advantages of this approach is that the small size of the notes encourages brevity, and different colored notes can be used to visually code the ideas.
- Folders. Yesterday, when I interviewed Joe Vitale, Published & Profitable’s latest author interview, Joe described how he begins to organize new books by creating folders for each chapter, and placing print-outs or clippings in the right folders.
- MS Word lists. One of the easiest idea organizing techniques is to use Microsoft Word’s bulleted and numbered lists feature to flesh-out the contents of each chapter. Using lists, you can quickly drag and drop ideas into the right order and sequence. I’ve used lists to organize ideas since the earliest word processing software.
- MS Word tables. Microsoft Word’s table feature offers an even better, multi-column, tool for organizing book ideas into chapters and sections. You can add as much information and as many points to each topic as the tables will expand as you add content. After you’ve finished entering ideas, you can easily sort them. Worksheets created in Word can later be copied and pasted into the manuscript files for each chapter of your book.
- Worksheets. Before I enter text into Word tables, I often print out blank copies of the worksheets I’ve prepared for my book coaching clients, and fill them out by hand—often while watching television or while my wife is driving. In a computer age, there’s something really exciting about writing by hand. The next day, of course, I copy my handwritten ideas into Word worksheets, of course. Typing my handwritten notes the next day improves what I’ve written by giving me an opportunity for a quick edit.
- Spreadsheets. Many of my coaching clients who come from a corporate background use spreadsheet software, like Microsoft Excel, to organize their ideas. After many years of working with Excel, they’re so familiar with its capabilities that using it is second nature to them.
- PowerPoint. Another existing tool you can put to work as an organizing tool is PowerPoint. Instead of writing ideas on index cards or sticky notes, simply place each idea on separate slides. When you’re through, go to PowerPoint’s Slide Sorter view where you can drag and drop each slides into the proper location. Later, you might even print-out your presentation and use the slides to jot down additional ideas.
- Flip-charts/paper. If you’re working with a co-author, or a group of contributors located in the same room, consider brainstorming ideas and placing them on flip-charts or large sheets of paper. A recently published book, Business Model Generation: A Handbook for Visionaries, Game Changers, and Challengers, describes how to use flip-charts and sticky notes—together–to organize complex projects.
- White boards. White boards are yet another highly visual tool you can use to organize your ideas as you create a content plan for your book. Erasable white boards, hung on walls or placed on stands, make it easy to display the big ideas associated with your book, as you add supporting ideas. To learn more, I recommend David Sibbet’s Visual Meetings: How Graphics, Sticky Notes and Idea Mapping Can Transform Group Productivity.
Habit is more important than selection
Your choice of book organizing tool or technique is not as important as the consistency with which you use the tool. As you prepare the various writing projects you work on during the week, which probably includes articles, blog posts, proposals, and white papers, try out different tools.
When you find one that works, make it a habit! Commit to using it every day as part of your routine.
Remember the words of Jack Canfield, Mark Victor Hansen, and Les Hewitt in The Power of Focus, “Your daily habits determine your success!”
Other tips include saving your work when you’ve finished. You may be able to reuse some of the ideas that you considered including in your book, but decided not to include. In addition, try to use your organizing tool as a way of displaying progress on your project. For example, each time you finish writing about a topic, remove the index card from the wall or change the background color or text color.
—Roger C. Parker helps others write books that build brands. He’s written over 30 books, offers do-it-yourself resources at Published & Profitable, and shares writing tips each weekday. His latest book is Title Tweet! 140 Bite-Sized Ideas for Article, Book, and Event Titles