Writing a Get-it-Done Guy episode is easy. I have one main point and usually 2-5 quickie subpoints. The whole episode fits in my head at once and it’s easy to try out different phrasing, etc. Also, since I’m writing the script and reading it back, talking through a concept out loud works well. It gives me a nice article that will sound good when read as a podcast.

An 80,000-word book is different, though…

No matter how hard I try, 80,000 words just won’t fit in my head at once. Furthermore, this isn’t a “high concept” book. I don’t have three quick rules, or seven habits. I have a bazillion practical tips that need to be organized. I could do a “101 Tips” type book that would be pretty easy, but wouldn’t necessarily keep people coming back for more.

And remember, I have a goal out of all this, too! I want to build a paying media career with this book and podcast as my platform. A good, theoretical framework or set of principles is great for the public speaking circuit. “Let me tell you, Ellen, about my Five Great Rules.” It’s easy for people to remember, and makes it easy to have a consistent message.

My show format is quick tips. The book wants a bigger message. How do I reconcile the two? How do I even think about it, when there’s no inherent Grand Concept to hang everything on? I can micro-focus on the different tips, but that doesn’t tell me how to organize them.

So far, here’s been my process:

I’ve used a Wiki at http://www.TiddlySpot.com to type in topics and notes on text as they come up. I’ve tagged each entry as a topic, a tip, an insight, or a problem the book solves. As more and more text has accumulated, the concepts have started naturally filtering into content-oriented themes: dealing with people, dealing with space, dealing with time, etc.

To play with the higher-level flow, I’ve created a Mind Map with http://www.MindJet.com’s “Mind Manager” program. The mind map contains just the title of each tip, concept, etc. The neat thing about the mind map is that I can drag and drop and change the structure very easily.

Now, when I have a new idea, I create a “Tiddler” in the wiki and a branch of the mind map. The detailed text and notes on the section go into the wiki. Just the title goes into the mind map, so I can fit it into my current concept of how the topics all flow together.

The wiki gives me the details. The mindmap give me the high-level overview.

My current concept of the book

  • A strong framing chapter that discusses the relationship between happiness, success, and personal productivity. This chapter lays the groundwork for why I chose the tips I chose, and how the tips all fit together.
  • 101 Tips organized by problem area. Each tip will be brief and actionable, and many will be on topics you’ve hopefully never before seen in a tips book.
  • A reference section that calls out the specific tools that are used repeatedly throughout the specific tips, in case you want more detail about a specific tool.

At the end of the day, the bulk of the book will be of the tips variety. The narrative tying it together will have a conceptual framework about the relationship of productivity to life goals, etc. It’s essentially a high-concept book interleaved with very tactical examples of applying the high-concepts. You’ll be able to read it as a how-to reference (“Gee, my files are a mess. How can I straighten them up?”) or as a Big Picture book (“One of the keys to success is consistent alignment of goals and tactics. Tips 5, 18, and 26 will show you how.”).

What do you think?

Organizing an 80,000 word book: my current process…

read time: 3 min