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Back to basics!

This week I’m going back to basics, and explain the importance of having a proper structure in place first before you start your book project.

You might have noticed that I haven’t posted for a couple of weeks, this is because I’ve been sorting out a 40,000 word book which only had a rough outline, the headings followed no structure and the author had far too many heading levels, which was really confusing to follow.

So I had to start from scratch, ditch the heading format that was in place and build it back up from what essentially was a huge long list within lists. There were so many of them, including numbered paragraphs, with no guiding structure it took a LONG time! This could have been avoided if a simple plan had been put in place first and I’m going to show you 1 quick easy way to implement it; however, if you’ve already started (or nearly finished) and you feel that your book is a bit all over the place, then I’m going to show you a lovely tool in Microsoft Word that allows you to see exactly where you’re at, and set up a structure that will make your book so much easier to follow.

Have a plan

BEFORE you begin your book, I always recommend setting up a plan, or a blueprint from which you base your chapters. Mind mapping software is brilliant at allowing you to do this, and there are plenty of options for you to choose from; including freeware such as Free Mind, available from: http://freemind.sourceforge.net/wiki/index.php/Download and other more sophisticated programs (which you pay for) simply search ‘mind mapping software’ in your search engine and you’ll get lots of choices.

Once you have that installed on your computer, you’re then ready to begin mapping out your book, starting a new node for each chapter, and then creating ‘child’s’ of those nodes for your headings. In fact, creating your blueprint plan is such a simple way of writing your book, because once your chapters and headings are in place you then simply transfer that plan to a word processing programme and fill in the bits in between. (Or if you’re recording your book, you talk through your sections, using your blueprint as your prompt.) I show this strategy in more detail here.

Once this is completed, it’s then just a case of going through the headings, using what’s known as ‘the style sheet’ window, assigning Heading 1 to your chapter name, Heading 2 for your next level of heading and level 3 for ones below that. Try not to use more than 4 levels – Chapter, Main heading, sub heading, and list heading – otherwise it gets confusing and like the big project I spoke about at the beginning of this article and you end up having lists within lists and it’s just not nice to read. (If you’re not sure how the style sheet window works, keep reading as I explain briefly how to use it, but for a more comprehensive understanding, simply visit http://office.microsoft.com/en-gb/word-help/style-basics-in-word-HA010230882.aspx?CTT=1

Don’t worry about changing the style of pre-determined format, that should be left for your book designer – or if you’re simply uploading it to somewhere like create space, just keep the format simple. Trying to explain how to change the font typeface, and style sheets is a book in itself !

Ooops, already finished!

Of course, if you’ve already written your book (or close to finishing it) then this might seem a huge step backwards, but can be quickly fixed using a neat little feature called the ‘navigation pane’. Simply go through your document, assigning your headings using the style sheet (if you haven’t already).

For example, your word document might look something like this;



For instance, in these headings, I have simply used the ‘Font pane’ to select the size of the font, and increased it to 18 point (for the Chapter 1 heading), increased it to 16 point (for the Understanding layout structure heading) and simply ‘bolded’ the fonts heading.

What I’m now suggesting is that instead of ‘manually’ creating your headings, simply click on the style tab at the top of your screen, and use the installed headings feature. (I’ll explain why this is important in just a sec…)



Once you’ve clicked the double AA tab, it brings up your style pane on the left hand side of your word document, and you can now go and assign your headings with the inbuilt heading formats. (If you click the options button on the bottom right hand corner of the style sheet, you can then choose ‘all styles’ from the first drop down menu, which will then allow you to have 9 Headings – just remember, I would recommend no more than 4!)

You can then go through your document, assigning your headings with the built in styles. Simply highlight your old heading, then click the correct heading number from the styles sheet on the left.

Once this is finished, you can then see an overview of your entire document, by using the ‘navigation pane’. If you haven’t used the style sheet tab, then this option will not work! Simply choose the ‘View’ tab at the top of your screen and select the navigation pane check box.

You’ll then see your whole document mapped out on the left hand side, with the heading structure in place. Your hierarchy will be visible, and it’s a great way to get a complete ‘overview’ of what section is where. And the great thing is, if there is a section that is in the wrong place, you can simply hover your mouse over the relevant section, (it will turn orange) and drag it to where it needs to go – incredibly quick, and super easy if you have large amounts of re-arranging! (It moves the test within the word doc too… how cool is that?!)

Of course this might seem incredibly confusing, or you might need some help deciding the headings, (something I’m working on with another client of mine) if so, simply email me, and we can see if a ‘blueprint’ session is something that might be of value.

I can’t stress enough the importance of your structure within your book. You could have some great content, but if it’s laid out in a confusing way, then people will struggle to read your book. Don’t let that happen to your publication!






  • Lorne

    Thanks, Alexa. That book sounded like a lot of hard work.

    Having tried about 6 mindmapping software tools, I have finally settled for Mindjet MindManager. It is probably the most expensive on the market, but it really delivers – and has its own cloud storage site to share maps with others over the internet.

    Sure, if you are on a tight budget, then there are probably cheaper options, but if you can stretch to it, I am sure you will be happy with the results.

    btw – I get no commission from this – just sharing my conclusions after a very painful (and quite expensive) review of inferior tools.


    • Alexa_Whitten

      Thanks Lorne,

      I’ve heard great things about Mindjet… in fact I gave it a go with a free trail, and it was a fantastic bit of software.

      Like you said, it is pricey, hence why I use the freeware – but if you spend a lot of time mindmapping, then this is one of the best!