What’s your favorite writing tool to help you organize your book ideas before starting to write?
How’s it working for you?
Your choice of tool to organize your ideas into a table of contents for your book plays an important role in your book’s success.
Choose the right tool and your book almost “writes itself.” With the right tool, you’ll be able to identify the chapter where each idea belongs. You’ll also be able to efficiently determine where in each chapter each idea belongs. And you won’t waste time writing text that will ultimately be eliminated.
Choose the wrong writing tool, however, and you’ll probably going to be frustrated. Your productivity will plummet. You’ll waste time entering and reviewing ideas. Moving topics from one chapter to another or revising the sequence of your ideas might be frustratingly slow. You might also be frustrated by the learning curve many writing tools demand. These inefficiencies reduce the time you have available to write and edit your book.
Worse, your choice of organizing tool might jeopardize your ideas. You might lose important, unbacked-up ideas because of unanticipated causes beyond your control.
There are 7 tools for turning ideas for turning unorganized ideas into a practical book writing plan. I’ve ranked the various categories of writing tools on 4 characteristics, including:
- Ease of use. This refers to the ease of adding ideas. It also measures the effort required to either delete ideas or move them to different location in the original chapter or different chapters. Ease of use also refers to sharing your ideas with others as well as exporting ideas to a word processing program or desktop publishing program.
- Security refers to preventing loss or corruption of your ideas and their intended locations in your book.
- Flexibility evaluates features like autocorrection, file import and export options, and the ability to focus your attention on just the sentence you’re currently working on.
- Price refers to purchase price and future costs like supplies.
- Ease of use. Authors have been using index cards for decades. They’re available in a variety of sizes with, with and without guidelines. There’s no learning curve. Their limited size encourages concise writing. Many authors hang them on the walls of their office so they can view the sequence of ideas in their book and move cards from one chapter to another. When starting to write your book, you must manually retype the ideas into your book’s manuscript. Index cards are convenient to take with you when traveling or keep next to your bed.
- Ideas written on index cards are vulnerable to loss and subject to weather-related—primarily exposure to rain or spilled beverages. Index cards are not easily backed-up. (Although today’s digital cameras and smartphones can be used for backup.)
- You can easily cross-out ideas and rewrite or enter new ideas. However, you’re limited by the size of the card and the quality of your handwriting. It’s difficult to share your ideas with others or profit from their feedback. Preparing your manuscript requires retyping your ideas when it’s time to add ideas to your manuscript.
- Popular index card sizes are available in the stationery section of drug stores, grocery stores, and computer stores in most places around the country. The cost of index cards is negligible, and the price goes down depending on how many cards you purchase.
Lists and outlines
- Ease of use. A list refers to an unorganized compilation of ideas. An outline adds sequence. Ideas are organized by their location within each chapter. This makes them ideal for planning a book’s table of contents. If you already have a word processor, like Microsoft Word, you can use it to create lists and tables. Microsoft Word contains a powerful outlining feature. When you have finished your outline, you can immediately begin to write your book.
- Many word processing programs automatically back up your work as you write. When sharing drafts of your book, you can limit changes to those who can comment, edit, print, or delete content.
- If you’re planning to use Microsoft Word’s Outline feature, you might begin by explore it in advance of creating an outline. It’s not particularly hard, but it’s important to review features like Styles.
- No charge for registered Office or Word users.
- Ease of use. Spreadsheets are often used in book production. They display information organized in rows and columns. But, spreadsheets are best used working with short text summaries, such as blog and podcast titles, keywords and phrases, names of those responsible for each project due dates and run dates, conversions and page views.
- Not an issue if you protect your computer with anti-virus software.
- Text can be imported and exported with other software programs.
- If you are a Microsoft Office user, you may already have a copy on your computer!
Notebooks, journals, and yellow legal pads
- Ease of use. Notebooks, journals, and legal-sized pads share many of the characteristics of index cards. There is no learning curve. If most of your work is computer-based, you’ll enjoy the tactile feedback and immediate gratification of handwriting. Notebooks are best suited for capturing ideas when you’re not at your computer. They come in a variety of sizes. Reporter’s notebooks are small enough to slip into a pocket, yet the cardboard front and back covers can strengthen them enough to permit capturing ideas while standing. Journals are typically larger with better covers and more pages. Journal pages are difficult to remove, which reduces chance of loss. Yellow, legal-size pads (i.e. 8 ½ inches by 15 inches) are my favorite companions when traveling on a plane or when someone else is driving. The cardboard backing is stiff enough to permit use while seated. You can can choose covers on both the front and back. You can choose hard to remove pages for durability, perforated pages, or glued pages for easy removal.
- Notebooks, journals, and yellow legal sized pages are vulnerable to loss and moisture. (I lost my notebook in Los Angeles after I “temporarily” laid it on a mailbox right before my bus showed up.) Moisture from or spilled beverages is another area of vulnerability. (Don’t get caught in a thunderstorm when you’re writing outside!) Notebooks, journals, and yellow legal sized pages are difficult to back-up. Your ideas can disappear forever until you transcribe your handwritten notes to computer files or create digital files of your handwritten notes with a camera or a desktop scanner.
- Joe Pulizzi, founder of the Content Marketing Institute, always carries a journal with him. He saves his previous journals, and he has shelves of journals going back several years. He frequently thumbs through them for inspiration. You might find it useful to purchase several color-coded notebooks. Use one for general use, i.e. contacts, impressions, and ideas for future books. Use another with a different colored cover for the first draft of your book. An additional notebook with a third color can be used for book marketing ideas or keeping track of your time spent on your book.
- Individual notebooks and yellow legal sized pages are inexpensive and available at discount and overstock stores. Journals are the most expensive, especially if printed on quality paper with fancy covers.
- Ease of use. Mind mapping software, like MindManager, convert text into visual images. Mind maps combine the best aspects of a word processor with the visual communication strengths of presentation and graphic design software. Begin with a list of unrelated ideas and topics you may have compiled online or others may have suggested. Next, drag-and-drop related ideas into the appropriate chapters of your book. Then, drag-and-drop the ideas within each chapter into the appropriate sequence.. Finally, export your mind map to a word processing program for editing, printing, and sharing. You can collaborate with others in the same room, down the hall, or located on a different continent. You can note their comments and questions. You can easily update your mind maps by adding, deleting, or relocating commands. If you are familiar with word processors, you’ll find it easy to create a mind map. Start out with a handful of commands, then explore additional features as needed.
- Because mindmaps are created on your computer, you can back them up on services like Dropbox, a cloud-based program which can automatically back-up every file on your computer. You can password-protect your mind maps. No matter how many back-ups you have, however, it’s always a good idea to print out the mind map of your book’s table of contents. I print mine on 3-hole punched paper and save them in 3-ring binders.
- Flexibility. Mind maps offer the most flexibility for tracking your progress as you convert ideas into a book. You can delegate tasks like marketing or book formatting to someone else and assign start-dates and deadlines. You can view progress. Mindmapping allows you to quickly jump between a high-level view of your books and digging into the ideas and structure of individual chapters. Ideas can be easily dragged from one chapter to another.
- Mindmapping is more than an expense, it’s an investment. Mindmapping can become the core of your business. The same mind mapping software, that you use for planning and writing your book can also be used to prepare a business plan, marketing plan, a resource planner, and a project manager used to delegate responsibilities and track progress.
Cloud based backups
- Ease of use. Evernote is a note taking tool that you can use to automatically back up your files. It can serve as the “note keeper” for a variety of conventional and specialized software programs. You can use its Stack feature to create, share, and back-up ideas for books. Evernote was launched in 2008. It currently has over 225 million users. It accommodates text, audio, and video files. You store ideas in different folders. You can create folders and sub-folders for each chapter of your book. You can share your Evernote content ideas with coworkers and clients. You can set permission levels for each person. Offers meeting notes, to-do lists, and project plans. Record audio and take screenshots. Link two or more computers
- Evernote is especially security conscious. Files can be mirrored online and on your computer.
- Evernote is not a writing software. Think of Evernote as the computer equivalent of index cards. The screen of your computer displays rows and columns of folders. Each folder can be used to save an idea or a topic, or a stack of other folders. Folders can be color coded.
- Evernote offers a free level plus two $10 range monthly charges.
- Ease of use. Two of the best specialized software programs for professional writers like authors, columnists, and reporters are Scrivener and LivingWriter. Writing software vastly outperforms conventional word processors. Both contain a writing area and a separate “corkboard” which can display a fuller view of the project. The scrolling area can display competing books. Authors who use Microsoft Word may find Scrivener and LivingWriter a bit overwhelming in the beginning. The layout of the screen is different and there are many unfamiliar features which reflect the special needs of high-output writers. Soon, however, you’ll be as comfortable as you were with Word, but able to efficiently perform more complex tasks than their previous word processors.
- Both Scrivener and LivingWriter take full advantage of the cloud to save and create back-up files. Both allow you to access files and update projects from your home and office computers.
- Scrivener and LivingWriter can satisfy the wish lists of authors and writers. Either can satisfy authors from the ideas and notes stage to formatted text ready to be transferred to desktop publishing. An important feature of both is the ability to focus on just the current sentence or text passage without being distracted by adjacent text.
- At a time when firms must deal with inflated prices, Scrivener and LivingWriter are surprising affordable, in the free to ten dollar a month levels.
Choosing the right writing tool
It’s important to try-before-you-buy. Fortunately, there’s no charge for trying out new software, as many software publishers offer 2 week or 4 week free trials to try out their software before the first payment is due tor to extend rental period. These free trials give you a chance to find out how the software compares with other options in terms of ease of use, security, flexibility and price.
Writing a book not only builds your brand and communicates your expertise, but it can also expand your personal capabilities. By exploring and implementing today’s writing and information management tools, you will also be expanding your productivity in other areas. Your can then adapt your newly-acquired skills to efficiently convert strangers into readers and readers into potential buyers, profits, and referrals.
Roger C. Parker:
Roger is a multi-title nonfiction author who has been using mind mapping software to write books. He continues to teach others how to use mind maps to boost their writing productivity. In 2012, Roger received a Map of the Month Award from the developers of MindManager for his Ultimate Writing mind map. He continues to advocate mind maps to productivity-oriented authors.
If you like this blog post, you’ll love this book: The Nonfiction Book Publishing Plan by Nonfiction Authors Association CEO Stephanie Chandler!