Almost every writer I know has a book they have been working on that was “shelved” (apologies for the pun) because the writer got completely stuck. In the last few months, we have released two books that fell into that category. I had part of a book on caring for adopted/rescued dogs done languishing in a Word file for more than a year. However, in November, we released it (you can see it at http://www.happyhoundbook.com). It’s also for sale on Amazon.com and we’ve been sending review copies out to rescue groups.
Historically, my problem getting books done was the outlining process and writing in Word. I’d get all bogged down and confused with the organization, get completely disgusted with it, and avoid opening the file. But now I’m finally finishing stuff that I’ve wanted to publish in book form for years. I know I’m not the only one with this problem, so in this article, I share what I did to get past my “stuckness.”
I used a program we developed called IdeaWeaver to get the information for the book out of my head and into print. IdeaWeaver seems deceptively simple; it’s an idea database. But one of IdeaWeaver’s great strengths is that it forces you to NOT think about formatting at all. With IdeaWeaver, while you are writing/brainstorming, you focus on just the words and structure of your document.
When you’re done, IdeaWeaver exports the headings in the outline you created as Word Heading 1, Heading 2 styles. It also brings in limited formatting like bold and italic. But in IdeaWeaver, you can’t really get all distracted with trying to “beautify” your document.
The bottom line is that for me, IdeaWeaver makes the writing/organizational process go much more quickly. I’ve got another book in process that I hope to send to my editor by the end of the month. Here is a step-by-step that shows what I did to get my book done.
1. Getting Started
To get started, you need to create a new project. Since the book is your first IdeaWeaver project and is unlike any of the samples that come with the program, you probably don’t want to copy from an existing project. So choose Project|New, give your project a title, select Generic, and click the Create new project radio button.
2. Brainstorming Topics
You are presented with a blank project window. If you have part of your book written somewhere else, you can start pasting sections of text in as individual ideas (see step 3). Or if you are just getting started, you can brainstorm the topics you already know you want to write about. For example, in my dog book, I added topics on adoption, behavior, care, cautions, cleanup, and health, but you can get as specific or as general as you want. It’s all what makes sense to you and what will help you jump start more ideas. You don’t have to use them all either. In fact, you don’t have to use any of them if you don’t want to; it’s up to you. To add a topic, choose Edit|New|Topic. Type in your topic and click OK.
3. Researching Material
Research is a big part of writing non-fiction. With IdeaWeaver, you can keep all your research and your actual writing in one place, but use categories to distinguish research text from your own writing. For example, if you find a really great Web page on your subject, you may want to reference it. You do NOT however want to plagiarize it. So create categories to keep your research separate. When you export your document, IdeaWeaver only exports the ideas in the outline. Only include your own writing in the outline and leave the research in IdeaWeaver for reference.
Some people find the difference between categories and topic confusing. Basically, a category is what an idea IS (it’s type) and a topic is what it is ABOUT (the subject matter). An idea only falls into one category, but can be associated with many topics.
To create categories, choose Edit|New|Category. Type a name and click Save.
4. Entering Ideas
Now, we get into the real guts of the book. As I said, if you have a document that you started (and bailed out on) in Word or other word processing program, you can copy and paste the text into IdeaWeaver ideas. I’ve found that it helps to keep each idea reasonably short. To create a new idea, choose Edit|New|Idea or press Ctrl+N. In the Idea Detail window, give your idea a title and assign it to a category (such as research, book content, or another category you’ve created). Then click Save and your idea is added into the center Idea Workbook pane. You see a preview below it.
5. Organizing the Content
After you’ve got some ideas in, you’ll probably want to organize them. I regard this as the most powerful part of IdeaWeaver. For this process you use the Outline pane on the right-hand side. Unlike Word’s outline view, I find it’s much easier to see the “big picture” of your book, even if it’s long. To add your first heading, right click the word Headings and choose Insert|Under. Alternatively, you can choose Edit|Insert Under.
When you are working in the outline, it helps to understand the concepts of “promotion” and “demotion.” Promoting a heading moves it to a higher heading level (physically moving it toward the left), whereas demoting a heading makes it a lower level heading (moving it toward the right). You reorganize and add items to your outline by using the buttons on the toolbar or keyboard commands.
6. Adding Ideas to the Outline
After you have at least a preliminary outline set up, you can start dragging your ideas into the appropriate places. You also can drag both headings and ideas to a new location in the outline. Deleting an idea from the Outline does not delete the idea from the database, only from that location in the outline. (You’ll note that the idea still appears in the idea list.) Here’s what my Happy Hound book looks like in IdeaWeaver. Note that you can expand and contract your outline by clicking the little minus signs next to a heading.
6. Adding Transitional Text
Because my book was compiled from many articles, I needed to go through and carefully add transitions so it wouldn’t seem too “choppy.” (The same would be true if you jump around a lot if you add ideas.) One of the features I insisted on, was the ability to use the arrow keys on the keyboard to move down through the outline and see the corresponding idea in the preview window. By doing this, you can go through the entire book and see where you need to add a few extra transitional ideas or text.
7. Exporting the File
After you’ve gone through all the text and are feeling good about your new book, it’s time to export it! Choose Project|Export to RTF and browse to select a location for your file. Microsoft Word and other word processors open RTF like any other file, it’s just a standard format. When you do an export, the headings (and optionally idea titles) come into your Word document styled as Heading 1, Heading 2 and so forth. Remove extra paragraphs is useful if you use Word styles because it’s not a good idea in Word to use empty paragraphs for spacing.
So in a nutshell, my book development process goes like this: I compile information, write, and outline in IdeaWeaver. Then I export the text to RTF/Word, spell check it and send it off to my editor. She uses revision marks to make changes. Finally I lay out the edited text in InDesign, and do an index. Voila, it’s a book!