The series: My Start | 5 Ingredients I Bring To A Project | Elements Of My Contracts or Letters of Agreement | The Working Table Of Contents AKA Outline | Is Ghostwriting Fair? Ask Anne The Pro Writer | Interviewing To The Working Table Of Contents
I use the term, working table of contents as a way to describe a way to organize a big writing project. I probably started with this term because I don’t like the idea of outlining.
I’ve also discovered that most of my ghostwriting clients prefer the term, particularly when I explain that working means just that – it is a document in process, meant to be a guide rather than an absolute. The book or other document will have a real or permanent table of contents of course, that will grow out of the writing itself.
It’s Just A List
The easiest way to start a working table of contents no matter what it’s for is to simply make a list. Start with a fresh piece of paper or open a new file and begin listing the topics you know you want to cover. If, for example, I wanted to write a book about living debt free I might start this way:
- Two kinds of debt – secured and unsecured
- The dangers of unsecured debt
- What interest rates really mean
- Pay yourself first
- First, stop using credit cards
- Getting clear on your numbers
- Negotiating with creditors
I’d keep listing topics until I had 10 or 15 or so. There’s no magic number. Too many, which might be 25 or 30 items, are pretty easy to combine for a more manageable quantity. If you start with only four or five, either more will probably have to be added or several of them split.
You want to be sure you have enough to fill a 200+ page book but not so much that chapter are terribly short.
Working With The List
It will probably take several days to do a good job with this. Set your first draft aside. Look at it again. See what needs to be added. There are probably at least a topic or two that should be divided into two.
Reorder the list so it seems to flow logically.
If your so inclined, create subcategories. Heck, if you like outlining go right ahead. Outlining works for many writers. Some tell me they do such a detailed outline the book is really more a matter of filling in the text between the headings. That’s not how I work, but there are many ways to get a writing project done. Figure out what works for you.
Know too that your working table of contents will almost certainly change as you actually write your book. You’ll realize you left something out, or that the order needs to be changed, etc. That’s just fine.
The working table of contents is meant to be a guide, to make your writing life easier and to help you see a long project like a book through. Use it that way and you’ll find its a great tool.