In November 2017, I attended the incredible CreativCastle Writer’s Retreat in Rappotenstein, Austria.
Along with several other authors, I spent the fortnight exploring the amazing medieval fortress, taking meandering strolls through the woods, and writing as many words as I could manage in between sumptuous communal meals.
Everyone in the castle was writing fiction, apart from me – the sole non-fiction writer.
Since I was doing non-fiction, I believed that plotting and outlining didn’t really apply to me. “That’s all fiction stuff.”, I thought.
But I was wrong.
Many writers may be able to identify with the following feeling…
You dutifully knock out hundreds of words, or even thousands of words every day.
You feel productive, as you see the word-count clocking upward.
But then, you get to a certain point and realise these words aren’t adding up to anything coherent…
… and you don’t know what to do next.
That was me. I was “just writing”, without an outline. I was writing whatever felt good in the moment.
I had to toss out almost everything, because although I had a lot of words, those words didn’t add up to anything that resembled a book.
I now realise that writing without an outline is like building a house without a blueprint. If you were to tell a builder to “just build”, he would laugh at you – and for very good reason. A builder will do things very differently depending on whether he is building a mansion, a studio apartment, or an igloo.
Yet this is basically what so many writers do every single day – they “just write”, without much of a plan of where it’s all heading.
Yes, writers will discover new things through the creative act of writing, but you still need to begin with the end in mind. Otherwise you just end up with a great big mess – like I did.
Outlining can be a pain though. It can take ages to shift ideas around, and you can very easily lose track of the scenes and where they fit. It’s why so many authors don’t do it. But luckily, they have an app for that. It’s called Trello.
Think of Trello as being a computer-based pinboard – the kind you might have hanging on your wall, to stick to-do-lists, reminders, and notes-to-self.
In this article I will share how to use Trello to produce strong book outlines which will save you a ton of time.
Trello basically works at three levels.
– Boards: which I use for each individual book.
– Lists: which I use for each chapter, or plot point.
– Cards: which I use for each ‘idea’ or story within the book.
To get started, go to www.trello.com and create your account. Then, create a new Board. Each Boards will eventually display everything in your book’s outline, all in one place.
Next, create your Lists within this board. Lists display across the Board, in columns. Think of Lists as your chapters, or your plot points.
Finally, you will place your individual ideas, as Cards, under each of these Lists.
You’ll probably end up with dozens of Cards, organised under each of the Lists.
You might be wondering what’s so special about any of that – can’t you do all this within a Word Document? Well yes… but here’s the real beauty of Trello: how painless it makes re-organising, when you realise that an idea fits somewhere else.
As you go, you can easily pick up a Card (idea) and move it to another part of the Board (the book), or even pick up an entire List (chapter / plot point). Just click, drag-and-drop – and bam! – your material has been moved.
You get to see the entire plan all at once, and organise it into a perfect blueprint before you start writing. It really is amazing.
One last tip to help advanced users get the most out of Trello: try adding “Tags” to Cards. These can be set to different colours.
I like to use Tags to annotate each story and the emotion that the story elicits.
I didn’t want to over-complicate it, so I just set three colours:
– Red for triumph
– Blue for difficulties and trials
– Yellow for entertaining stories
By using Trello, I could see, at a glance a 10,000-foot view of my book before writing it!
A solid outline can then be sent to an editor or beta readers, who can give further feedback on the direction – before sitting down and writing that crucial first draft.
By doing it this way, you can make sure that you don’t go off in totally the wrong direction… like I did!
I’d love to hear how you use Trello for yourself. Good luck with outlining your next book!