It’s not unusual to get stuck during in the outline or mind mapping phases of your book. This happens because you’ve exhausted your own idea well and need additional sources of inspiration. Fortunately, you can refill this well at any time. Here are a few techniques to help you with that…
Google Books as Sources of Inspiration
Google has taken the time to index millions of books around the world. These include both digital books and physical ones, too. The beauty of their design is that you can easily search within a book to find a certain keyword. This can be helpful if you’re feeling overwhelmed with your outline and not sure what else to say on your topic.
Just go to Google Books and do a search. You can look for books by title, author, or publisher. Once you begin your search, you’ll see the title of books that match your criteria as well as the author’s name and a picture of the book cover.
If one book catches your eye, click the blue “preview” link under the title. This will open up Google’s reader and allow you to read the first few pages. If you look on the left side of the reader, you’ll see a search bar. This is where you can add a keyword and see what the author has to say about it.
For example, let’s say you’re writing about digital photography so you open up the book Digital Photography Complete Course: Learn Everything You Need to Know in 20 Weeks by David Taylor.
You can enter a search term like “low light” or “conveying movement.” Depending on Google’s index, they may display some or all of the content that the book covers on this subject.
Obviously, you never want to copy someone else’s words. That’s unethical and in some cases, it could get you sued by the original writer. However, you can be inspired by an author’s work. For example, you might read about “low light” conditions and realize you want to talk about how to create the best lighting with a photography umbrella kit.
The more you immerse yourself in work from other authors, the easier it is to think of topics you want to cover in your own book. That’s because inspiration often multiplies. Once you’re in a good flow with one idea, more are likely to arrive soon after that.
Podcasts as Sources of Inspiration
If you prefer audio to text, you don’t have to be stuck using tools like Google Books. You can instead look for MP3s and other audio content. You can find some of the best content by searching through a podcast directory like the one from iTunes.
When you first go to the directory, you’ll see a list of topics. You may have to drill down depending on what you need. For example, you can click “Health” and find the subtopics for: Alternative Health, Fitness & Nutrition, and Self-Help.
After you click on a niche, you’ll see a page filled with podcast suggestions. These are just the most popular podcasts on the subject you chose. If you want to go deeper, you can browse the complete list in alphabetical order by using the letters at the top of the screen.
Keep in mind that some podcasts may not have recent updates but might still contain valuable content. In fact, some podcast hosts don’t publish new content on a regular schedule. They do this so they’re never tempted to release a subpar episode simply to fill an empty slot on their calendar.
While you listen, have a way to record idea close by. This could be having the notes app on your phone open or keeping pen and paper handy. If you’re trying to do something hands-free like drive, then keep a memo recorder nearby. Then you won’t lose any flashes of inspiration when they come to you.
Social Groups as Sources of Inspiration
When it comes to getting new ideas, you don’t have to lean into meaty resources. Sometimes knowing what to add to your outline is a simple as finding Facebook groups that cater to your audience.
You can do this by logging into Facebook and visiting their groups page. You will see a list of groups that you’re already part of. However, if you look at the top, you’ll also see a tab that reads “discover.” Click that and you’ll see a list of group suggestions.
The first list of group suggestions will be based on topics you’ve expressed interest in. But you’ll also see local groups, groups that friends are in, and groups that are labeled hobbies and interests.
When you do find a few groups that seem like a good match, ask to join them. Some moderators may have a questionnaire for you to fill out so make sure that you do that. You should also look at the group rules to see if the group is a good match for you.
Once you’re part of a few groups for your target audience, spend some time browsing in them. Answer questions from other members and provide valuable content for them. Many times, these conversations can spark fresh inspiration and make you see your book in a whole new way.
News & Journalism as Sources of Inspiration
Sometimes, looking at your topic in a new way can be exactly what you need to give you fresh eyes for your outline. Try going to Google News and looking for “new study on (subject)” without quotation marks.
You could use the search term: new study on heart disease. This pulls up several interesting articles including one on why half of Americans now have heart disease and another on how the Mediterranean diet can prevent heart disease.
If you find research that might be helpful to you later when you’re writing, you can save the news story by signing into Google. You can also choose to select favorite topics or sources. When Google finds content that matches your preferences, it will display this content higher in your feed, making it easy for you to discover new articles on your favorite topics.
For instance, I found this article on “The Latest in Military Strategy: Mindfulness” to be quite inspiring. What do you think?
Videos can be another great sources of inspiration when you’re not sure what else to put in your outline. One of the most popular and well-known video sites is YouTube. You can use it just like you would Google.
Type in your topic and search to see what comes up. You can change the results you get by clicking the “filter” link at the top of the site. This lets you look for content that’s been uploaded recently (like within the past few hour or days).
You can also filter content by the duration (perfect when you need to go in-depth) or by features (such as subtitles or the location). You can even have your results displayed by relevance, number of views, or the rating.
However, YouTube isn’t the only video search engine you can use. There are also video sites like Vimeo where you can find tutorials, documentaries, journalism, and more. You may not find as many videos on the site but sometimes, the quality is much better.
If you’re still looking for video content to inspire you as you work on your outline, try looking for TED Talks and even books about giving TED Talks. These videos are presentations by both professionals and amateurs on almost every topic you can think of.
Don’t feel like you have to watch a TED Talk that’s focused on your book’s subject. Sometimes, the best way to find sources of inspiration is to see content on an unrelated topic. That’s because your brain can draw connections while you’re busy focusing on something else.
If you’re stumped with your outline and you already have access to a large audience like a big mailing list or a huge blog following, use that to your advantage. You can create a survey to see what topics your community wants to know more about.
This doesn’t have to be hard or technical. You can use a website like SurveyMonkey or SurveyGizmo. Create your survey by asking open-ended questions like: What areas of your digital photography would you like to improve? Or What was the last book you ready on the topic of digital photography?
Be sure to leave space at the end of your survey for your participants to share what they want from you. You never know what they’ll say that might spark an idea or give you an insight to add to your book.
Once your survey is set up, send it out to your subscribers, blog readers, and anyone else in your community who’s willing to take it.
You may need to offer a small incentive to encourage people to click through your link and record their answers. This could be a small gift like a coupon code for one of your product, free registration to your paid webinar, or another digital goodie. Whatever you plan to offer, make sure your participants will value it enough to fill out your survey.
Stay the Course
You might be tempted to skip the research phase of authorship. It may not seem as exciting or glamorous as some of the other steps involved. However, don’t fall into this trap. Doing your research and taking the time to create a great outline will help you write your book quickly and easily later. It will also make the whole publishing process easier and more enjoyable.
If you start to feel overwhelmed this week, give yourself permission to take a break. But don’t give up. Come back to your book and keep working on it. When you have a published book in a very short period of time, you’ll feel so proud of yourself and be amazed at what you accomplished.
I’m author, publisher, and entrepreneur Connie Ragen Green and would love to connect with you. If you’re new to the world of online entrepreneurship please check out my training on how to sell yourself at Sell Yourself and Your Stuff and learn how to gain an unfair advantage when it comes to building a lucrative online business.