How to plan your Book

If you are serious about writing a Book … a plan is essential.

A great thing about a plan for your book is that it will keep your writing focused. A plan will also enable you to see potential problems before they occur.

But you don’t have to stick to the plan rigidly. You can change it while writing, as your ideas change.

There are three easy techniques you can use for planning: (a) electronic mind-mapping, (b) electronic index cards, and (c) chapter outlines.


A mind-map is a diagram used to outline information visually.

Mind-mapping is, in essence, a way to generate ideas based on a central topic. If you’ve never come across one before, I suggest you google ‘mind-map’ and you’ll soon find plenty of explanations and pretty illustrations.

As you’ll see, a mind-map is usually created around a single keyword in the centre of the page or screen to which associated words, concepts and ideas can be linked using lines.

It is often referred to as a spidergram or spidergraph because that’s what it looks like … a cobweb of thin lines or filaments with major keywords radiating out from the central idea. Lesser ideas are joined to these keywords with further filaments.

You have to see one to appreciate the beauty and functionality of a mind-map. You’ll find plenty of examples using Google.

Mind-maps were popularised by Tony Buzan in the 1970s as manually-drawn aide-memoires and brain-storming tools before PCs were invented.

Using a mind-map

Here’s how you can a plan a book using a single sheet of paper and a pencil:

(1) Write down your main keyword or phrase, one which best articulates the basic idea you are going to write about, in the centre of the page. This could be the title of your book.

(2) Around the page, jot down any keywords for ideas that relate to this main keyword. Write down everything you can think of … you can always drop the redundant ideas later.

(3) Draw lines to link related ideas to each other and to the central keyword. The main ideas should be linked to the central keyword and the subsidiary ideas linked to the main ideas. Redraw the lines as necessary so that all your ideas are linked appropriately.

You don’t have to complete all the mind-map in one go. Drop it for a few hours or a few days, come back to it and you’ll probably find that you have a raft of new ideas that you can add in.

That’s the great thing about mind-mapping. It’s not just a way to record the ideas you already have. It triggers new ideas. As you write down key ideas, new ideas will keep popping into your mind. This is why mind-mapping is such a marvellous brain-storming and planning tool.

The mind-map for your book is not set in stone. You can add to it as you write and more ideas keep cropping up. In addition, you can relegate ideas from major or main ideas to subsidiary or lesser topics as you go.

And therein lies the rub … with changes and additions, the mind-map gets messier and messier and every now and then you will have to redraw the whole thing, which is really time-consuming. That’s why I prefer an electronic mind-map.

Mind-mapping software

Mind-mapping programs are available for down-loading on the internet. Some, like the Tony Buzan version you can get at, are quite expensive.

Most of these applications have features you do not require as a writer planning a book but still you have to pay for them, which is why I prefer the free basic version of XMind from It has all the features you need to jot down ideas and link them, without the complicated extras. It just takes a minute or two to read the ‘Getting started’ page and to get going.

The great thing about mind-mapping software is that you can change the spidergram … add and delete ideas and topics, promote and demote ideas from main to subsidiary, and so on … without it getting messy at all. It saves hours and hours of manual drawing and redrawing.

I have used XMind to plan non-fiction books with great success. I just list all my ideas and link them as main and subsidiary topics. In the end I have my section, chapter heads and sub-headings spread out in a nice clean diagram and a ready-to-go table of contents or chapter outline. I usually end up changing quite a bit as I go along.

I have not used mind-mapping software to plan fiction but I understand that some novelists do so with good results. I’m not sure it would be much good for creating a plot-outline. But you could use it for holding outline character sketches and using lines to link characters and show the relationships between them.

Index cards

Writers have been using 6″x4″ cards for decades, perhaps ever since the first cards were produced more than a hundred years ago for use in libraries.

Each index card will have a main idea and a few notes. For a novelist or playwright, there would be one card for each scene in the story. For non-fiction, there would be a separate card for each chapter or section within a chapter.

Index cards are used to rearrange the running order of a book, play or movie script. They allow a fiction writer to shuffle scenes around to get the plot to flow better. Similarly, a non-fiction writer can use the cards to ensure that the exposition of his argument is logical and intelligible.

If, like me, you prefer digital, there are plenty of index card equivalents available for downloading from the internet. But there is no need to buy these as you probably already have the ideal solution residing as an application on your hard disc … MS PowerPoint.

The functionalities a writer requires as regards index cards are simple and you can use PowerPoint to do all the things you do with physical index cards. All you have to do is to create slides with the information you would put on an index card … one slide for each card.

Once created, the slides will usually appear as a column down the left side of the PowerPoint screen. Go to View and click on Slide Sorter. Like magic, the slides will appear arranged in rows across the entire screen.

You can move the slides around to change their order … by grabbing and dragging with your mouse.

Once you are satisfied, click on Slide Sorter again and your slides (or electronic index cards) will appear in a column down the left side in the order you have chosen … neat!

Chapter outlines

A linear chapter outline is useful, especially for non-fiction.

The outline can consist of just a list of the chapters or it can be more detailed by incorporating sub-sections within chapters. You can also add notes on what is to go into each subsection.

If you have used a mind-map to plan your book, perhaps with index cards also, drawing up a chapter outline will be a doddle. It’s just a matter of copying. You may already have notes on the index cards which you can add into the outlines of individual chapters.

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