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Overcoming the Biggest Obstacle to Writing Your Book

Are you tired of beating yourself up for not writing your book? Maybe you have a story you’ve been trying to write for months, or even a chapter you should’ve written years ago. What if not outlining your book is the reason why you’re struggling to write your book? Good news! Here you’ll find the most powerful way to overcome that obstacle.

A couple days ago, I wrote an article called 5 Reasons Writers Should Not Outline Articles or Essays. It was an article by a publication coach and published author; she said writers should never outline their books before they write them. A published author called Gary gave me so much good information about outlining before writing a book, I had to share it with you. Maybe not outlining is the reason why you haven’t written your book yet.

Here’s why outlining your book is so important — especially for writers struggling to write their books. You may find the motivation, discipline and energy you need to start writing the book that’s been in you for years!


Outlining your book before you write it is a vital part of any well-structured work of creativity, whether it is an essay, novel, fashion item, architectural structure, painting, sculpture, software program or any other work you could name. I think the inherent problem in the publication coach’s writing advice her conception of what an outline is. There is a strong implication here that outlining involves a strict, rigid, carved-in-stone, linear document that can only pre-exist the work it is trying to structure.

If an outline were simply a written piece of dogma, to be blindly adhered to without any kind of artistic license, then I could understand the objection someone would have to it.

But this is hardly ever the case. Outlining your book doesn’t chain you to the outcome. On the contrary, outlining gives you freedom to move and breathe life into your book.

What is an Outline of a Book?

Imagine the literal meaning of the word. The picture is that of an overall shape, like the outline of a silhouette or the light pencil lines that a painter puts down before they commit paint to canvas. In neither case does the outline strictly dictate the identity of the person or what the painting will finally look like. The details will eventually make themselves known.

What is an outline but a mind map displayed as a list? And accordingly, isn’t a mind map just an exploded outline? And when the final story or article is written, doesn’t the reader read from start to middle to finish in a linear fashion, much as an outline simply places sign posts for each section and paragraph?

An article well-written already has an implied outline by default. Otherwise, it’s simply a series of disconnected points, devoid of a thread that leads the reader on a journey that enlightens progressively with each step forward on a single path from start to finish.

Outlining Your Book Will Give You Direction and Focus

An outline is a plan. A structure. A direction that marks the basic path from launching point to destination. But there is no rule that says that a few detours can’t be taken along that path to make the journey more interesting.

For my first ‘real’ novel, I used an outline. It was the first time I actually finished a full first draft. Every attempt before failed due to one basic reason: I had no outline. (This is why I think not outlining is the number one reason writers don’t write the books they desperately want to write).

I was wandering in the wilderness without a direction. I’d hit walls, get frustrated and eventually lose interest. By contrast, a structure that indicated where the story would lead the reader was what provided the discipline to fill in the gaps between each literary milestone. I believe this applies even to essays and shorter written works.





But did I follow the strictures of my original outline? No. I embellished the details, improved the story arcs, improvised parts of the plot. What resulted was a better story that was more lush and complex than if had I just gone with what I had at the top of my head.

Outlining Your Book Offers “Freedom Within Structure”

The Reason You Haven’t Written Your Book Yet
Why Haven’t You Written Your Book Yet?

The structure of a book outline freed me rather than restrained me by allowing me to explore the possibilities and by imposing a disciplined approach, rather than running down rabbit holes that led nowhere and would discourage me from continuing.

You can stumble your way through the dark, and eventually come out the other end. But an outline is like a flashlight. Outlining your book acts as a guide and exploring becomes an act of discovery. With an outline, there is room for compromise between planning ahead and creatively following options that stray from the original idea, yet retain relevance to the heart of the story.

Like an artist who sketches a figure at first, they can slowly build the details, commit, erase, change, redraw and refine till the picture comes together as a whole. All great artists work this way. But no great artist sets out, paint already stroked out on canvas, not knowing if they’re painting a portrait or a landscape.

There are happy accidents; some books are written without outlines. Some books are even published without outlines. But seldom are accidents actually happy. In my experience, most accidents are disasters. So if you want to avoid a disaster — which you’ll find plenty of in 17 Reasons Manuscripts are Rejected by Book Publishers and Editors — then you’ll outline your book.

And voila! No longer do you have a reason for not writing your book. 🙂

Fellow scribes, why haven’t you written your book yet? If you haven’t tried outlining, give it a whirl! The worst thing that can happen is you don’t write your book…which you’re already not doing. What do you have to lose?

If you’ve already written your book and are dealing with limp responses from publishers, editors and literary agents, read 5 Ways to Keep Writing Despite Multiple Rejection Letters.

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27 thoughts on “Overcoming the Biggest Obstacle to Writing Your Book”

  1. Think I may need to try outlining. I especially like the bit I quote below.

    “The structure of a book outline freed me rather than restrained me by allowing me to explore the possibilities and by imposing a disciplined approach, rather than running down rabbit holes that led nowhere and would discourage me from continuing.

    You can stumble your way through the dark, and eventually come out the other end. But an outline is like a flashlight. It acts as a guide and exploring becomes an act of discovery. ”

    That speaks greatly to me on many levels. One thing I struggle with is anhedonia due to a congenial medical issue. Then, I also have a bit of learning disability, in that I have to learn doing whatever it is the hardest way. You write in the above quoted piece something I can view as an aid to facilitate my writing journey. I apparently understand parables, metaphors. 🙂

    I can see now, that outline does offer freedom. You have a clearer sense of what you’re going to do. Once you have that as you say you can take little relevant shortcuts, or out of the way treks, and still keep apace of where you need to go. Yes, i like that a good bit. Thank you for finally explaining why there is such a strong need for outlining in a manner that made sense to me.

  2. Yeah, I agree that an outline is important. That is essentially what a book proposal is: a long, detailed outline that explains what the book is about. It can help you write that book!

  3. Interesting post. I’ve always wanted to write a book, but I’ve never started doing it by the reasons that are in this post.. Hopefull one day….. 😉

  4. The number one reason I haven’t written the book I want to write is that I haven’t received a publisher’s contract for it yet! No monee, no writee.

  5. Thiar Thea | Non Fiksi

    If I make an outline, only made me like a prisoner.
    So I just write down what I think. I still make the outline, but I use it for editing after I finished my writing.

  6. Typically beginning writers need to find where what they want to say begins–sometimes it takes a page and a half to get rolling with the good stuff.

    An outline can cause a writer to lose a valuable new thread, force an idea that may end up not working with the ongoing process, and worst of all predetermine a predictable ending.

    Most writers I know write a few drafts after several false starts, and then when they feel they know where they must go, make a very tentative outline, but not in strict outline form. And many confess they outline after completion of an essay, a story or poem.

    Once a complex novel or play is underway, note cards are essential for keeping characterization consistent, along with names, dates, details of settings, and even monitoring words that may be over used.

  7. I get writers block so often and it is really hard for me to sit down and focus on writing that book. I like you idea of outlining.

  8. While I agree with the significance of outlining, I don’t see it among the top reasons for writer’s block.

  9. Some people outline, some people don’t. It brings to the forefront the whole outlining vs discovery writing thing. Both are valid, and in reality, most writers do a little bit of both.

    I can’t outline. I’m a discovery writer. Outlining never works out for me. But at the same time, I can’t finish a draft. However, I don’t think it’s because I don’t outline.

    But really, I DO outline. Most writers do, just not to the extent that one would call them outliners. To put it in perspective. I tend to write until I get an idea of where I’m going, then I make some notes about what will happen based on what I’ve already written. This is outlining in essence. I then repeat the process.

    I will say this though, I envy outliners. The ones that can plot the entire story from beginning to end and then just write the whole thing out with the outline as a blueprint. But my mind just doesn’t work that way. And I’m sure many other writers are the same. For some, the enjoyment is in the discovery, word by word, as they go along.

  10. For me the biggest challenge is ‘timing.’ I always seem to push my writing ideas back because of other, ‘more important’ things. I always tell myself that writing will take up more time/effort than I can afford instead of taking things a step at a time. Thanks for the tips on outlining!

  11. I just wanted to let all you writers know of a writing competition (deadline May 14, 2012) that could get you in front of an agent. For anyone who has written a novel, or is in the process, you may be interested in Writer’s Digest 10TH FREE “DEAR LUCKY AGENT” CONTEST.
    Also check out Guide to Literary Agents Blog (www.guidetoliteraryagents.com/blog)

  12. I get writers block so often and it is really hard for me to sit down and focus on writing that book. I like you idea of outlining. These are some of the basics I learned in school that I need to go back to practicing. Thanks for the wakeup call.

  13. Outlining can only get you so far. You have to have the time and the drive to follow through with your outline. Some people are great organizers, but they never actually follow through with anything.

  14. Does slow typing speed really affect the result and outcome of a book? One of the commenters posted this. I think that making yourself stay on schedule every day and not burning yourself out on it, then you could display your novel with time. I don’t think speed has anything to do with it.

  15. I often fear rejection. English is not my native language which also discourages me. I usually rate myself way below the English speaking country writer.

  16. I really believe in loose outlines, but when I write I don’t want to limit myself at least when I write narratives. I think that my subconscious knows best as to what I want to write because that is the creative side of my brain working.

  17. It didn’t occur to me that one of the reason that I am reluctant to write is because of my typing speed. I am not a native speaker, and even writing a 500 words articles takes me 1-2 hours. While doing an eBook course, one pointer was to improve the typing speed. I timed myself and realized I only type at 35 wpm! I have since taken the effort to improve that and I now I can type a 70 wpm – that’s a double in productivity. And now I am more motivated to write and type.

  18. Since creative (not technical) writing is a recursive process, as you reread your words, you may want to change direction a bit, or point of view, or combine elements previously treated separately. That’s why Hemingway began the day by reading what he wrote the day before. It primes the pump and allows for ongoing revision–much less onerous than following a blueprint to the end, before any revision
    has begun. Note: Revision isn’t editing.

    Typically beginning writers need to find where what they want to say begins–sometimes it takes a page and a half to get rolling with the good stuff.

    An outline can cause a writer to lose a valuable new thread, force an idea that may end up not working with the ongoing process, and worst of all predetermine a predictable ending.

    Most writers I know write a few drafts after several false starts, and then when they feel they know where they must go, make a very tentative outline, but not in strict outline form. And many confess they outline after completion of an essay, a story or poem.

    Once a complex novel or play is underway, note cards are essential for keeping characterization consistent, along with names, dates, details of settings, and even monitoring words that may be over used.

  19. Courtney @centsablelady

    I think I have not written because of this internal failure to launch. I also do not think I am a good writer. I am a good friend through writing, but not the best writer. Guess I need a wonderful editor 🙂

  20. I haven’t written a book (and I have so many ideas) for a completely different reason – my native language is Russian, but as I live in Canada, I use English more often, I write content for my website in English, and although my knowledge of English is sufficient for writing about hotels and attractions, it’s definitely not sufficient for writing a book…and I cannot write a book in Russian because it’s going stale since I am not using it enough in my daily life.

  21. Hi there! I think outlining is crucial when it comes in writing. I want to write but I have no talent . Thank you for giving your tips.

  22. I think everyone has there own slightly different process. Stephen King describes his process in “On Writing” and it’s much more about creating an interesting scenario and characters and letting things flow from there rather than having an outline at the start.

    Ian

  23. I think you nailed it. I have started a dozen books or more without an outline. I have a dozen books (or more) that are only at the 70 page mark, or less. Those are the books I never bothered writing outlines for – I just forged ahead and started banging out the story based on emotion usually. Trying to get the anger out of my head in the form of a story.

    Problem is – with ADHD / ADD – the story is not strong enough to move forward, and it falters… crashes. Really what happens is that I write myself into a hole with no way out. All writing stops as I put it on the back-burner and tell myself it wasn’t a great story that could write itself.

    Truth was – the story started out as exceptional, and just got lost without the outline.

    Great post – I found you on AllTop – where I’m also featured among the other 150 blogs on that page.

    Cheers!

    MF

  24. The thing about why it is hard to write is the complexity of emotions involved. The various terms you want to express. Hard to commit words that best describes the plot you want to start with. The hard thing is, how to start. If one can find an appropriate approach, the story flows as though it is written on your mind.
    My opinion though.
    ___
    Genie here,
    Happy Blogging!

  25. Outlining is a vital part of writing. It allows me not only to structure an essay or story, but it allows me to quickly scan over it to see if I have left out any important information. It provides a way to make one’s writing thorough.