Writing a book is similar to completing a puzzle. I love puzzles, and growing up, I believed everyone else did, too. After all, everyone in my family looked forward to our annual holiday gatherings, where we often caught up on family news while piecing together a puzzle in the sitting room. But I have since come to realize that many people find puzzles boring, overwhelming or downright frustrating.
The same is true when piecing together the content of a book. I’ve written several books, and I enjoy the challenge of figuring out which piece of information belongs where. But what comes naturally to me, doesn’t necessarily come easily to others.
This was revealed to me recently in a survey I conducted among my subscribers. I assumed that they were struggling with the writing process itself. As it turned out, their biggest challenge was organizing their existing written content.
So, to help those of you who have books stagnating on your desktop because you’re bored or overwhelmed with the process of organizing your content, I’ve put together the following tips:
Content Puzzle Tip #1: Keep the big picture in mind
People select puzzles based on the image on the box. They like its overall appearance, whether it’s the colors, the complexity, or the object(s) of the photo. It’s something that motivates and excites them, and when they’re done, it’s something they’re proud to display.
Likewise, your book’s topic must be something you’re excited about sharing with others. It’s something that makes you envision the end result. In your mind, you can see what the finished book looks like, right down to the cover. In addition, your book should excite your readers. The information should resonate with them or help them in some way.
Finally, why are you writing your book? Is it to create a legacy for yourself? Help others solve a problem? Without a big enough “why” or visualizing the end result, you will be more likely to throw in the towel and walk away from the table.
To help avoid this worst-case scenario, write down your why and keep it visible. Just as you refer back to the box lid to see the puzzle’s finished image, you should refer back to your why and your big picture for your book to keep you motivated and writing throughout the challenging book creation process.
Content Puzzle Tip #2: Allow adequate time to complete it
Just as you can’t finish a 1,000-piece puzzle in an hour, you’re not going to write and finalize your entire book in a day, or a week. However, you can complete a chapter in a week. Break your book’s content into manageable sections and set realistic expectations and deadlines.
Remember, the more complex your book project is, the longer it will take to complete. A 45-page e-book will take significantly less time to write and organize than a 250-page life story. Also, the amount of time you commit to the process each week will determine how quickly you complete your book.
Content Puzzle Tip #3: Dump it out & create a framework
When I begin to work on a puzzle, I turn the box upside down and dump out all of the pieces. Then I sort through them all, searching for the border pieces. The interior pieces are set aside until the border (frame) is complete.
The same should be done with your book’s content. Brain dump all of your ideas and create an outline for your story. List all of the significant content you want to include and arrange – and rearrange – them until you have a cohesive order.
Content Puzzle Tip #4: Separate the sections
Once you complete the border of a 1,000-piece puzzle, roughly 872 pieces remain (for a thorough mathematical analysis of how this number was derived, visit Mathematics Stack Exchange). At this point, you may wonder, “How in the world will I ever put them all together?” The answer, of course, is one piece at a time.
First, you sort the pieces according to similar characteristics, such as by color or pattern. Then you examine each piece to determine where it might fit in the frame. Finally, you test it out. Sometimes it slides into place where you expect it to fit; sometimes it doesn’t. When it doesn’t, you keep looking until you find the correct placement.
The same is true with your book’s content. If you’ve been working on your book for any length of time – whether it’s a few weeks, months, or even years – then you probably have content scattered here, there, and everywhere. Begin by searching for commonalities among your disparate content pieces and separate them into sections. Then, within each section, examine each piece of content to determine
1) if it’s necessary to the story (does it solve a problem or provide value in some way?)
2) where it will best fit within the story.
Finally, place each piece of content to see if it does, indeed, fit.
As you continue to place pieces of content, a portion of the big picture will begin to emerge. You will gain confidence in your abilities. And as you persevere, more and more of the big picture will take shape, ultimately resulting in a beautiful, finished book.