My book isn’t organized or cohesive. How do I fix it?

If you’re like most aspiring authors, the ideas for your book percolate in your mind before you start writing. But when you start to write them down, those ideas don’t seem as organized and cohesive as they did when they lived in your head. You have plenty of great insights and anecdotes, but there’s no common theme or “thread” to pull them together and make the book one harmonious story.

Finding that thread will make or break your book. That’s what will hook your readers and keep them engaged. And that’s the catch: you can’t force a thread or a theme into your story. You have to identify one that’s already there, waiting to emerge like Michelangelo’s sculptures that were hidden inside the marble blocks.

At The Book Professor®, we suggest five strategies to find your book’s theme and better organize the content.

Consider Themes Before You Start Writing

All of our clients develop a purpose statement before they start writing. They answer 12 foundational questions about their book, one of which asks them to identify the themes that arise from their story.

It’s best to think about themes and common threads before you start writing. If you struggle to narrow down a theme at first, or if you find several themes and can’t decide which is most important, that’s okay. The point is to plant a seed in your mind. With possible themes marinating in your imagination, you’ll be primed to spot them when they appear in your first draft. From there, you’ll find the thread that ties your book together.

Use The Problem/Solution Book Structure

Using a problem/solution format, you’ll frame your story as a series of problems the reader is likely to experience. Through a story-driven process, you then explain how you overcame or solved each one.

When listing the problems and solutions, you may see common threads that emerge—the same type of problem arising, the same internal struggle repeated, the same solution that addresses various types of problems. Those struggles and solutions could be the common theme in your book.

Find an Experienced Second Set of Eyes

It’s much easier for an outside reader or writing coach to step back and view a manuscript as a comprehensive body of work. You, the author, have been down in the weeds with your work for a long time, and it’s easier for someone else to identify the common thread that you missed. So, get a second set of eyes on your work.

But not just any pair of eyes will work. You need the right eyes, and your friends and family won’t cut it for this step. You need an experienced writing coach or writing group, someone who knows what makes a book work and what doesn’t. Authors who work with The Book Professor® receive personalized feedback from a dedicated book coach, and participants in the Executive Group Mastermind class also get feedback from other aspiring authors in their group.

When author Tina Asher wrote Teetering: A Frazzled, Overworked Person’s Guide to Embrace Change and Find Balance, she fretted throughout the writing process. The book didn’t seem to have one cohesive theme. Her manuscript told about her leap from corporate America into a more satisfying lifestyle, and she shared the lessons she’d learned along the way. But it felt like a collection of anecdotes and advice rather than a fluid narrative. Something was missing.

Tina’s book coach and editor found the common thread. At every step of her journey, Tina seemed to be teetering between different decisions. And each decision changed the course of her life. It was as if she had walked a tightrope between two paths and now offered the reader advice on how to walk their own tightrope.

After this, the book’s theme and title came easily: Teetering.

Cut The Fluff

An excellent way to find your theme is to weed out the unnecessary and less interesting material. This winnowing process will leave you with the moments that drive your story.

To cut the fluff, identify places where you can conflate information. In nonfiction, it’s fair to compress parts of your story into short summaries, which moves the story along and creates more space to explore the most interesting and critical moments of your journey.

For example, if you wrote a book about the decision to adopt a child overseas, you wouldn’t include a blow-by-blow of every conversation you had with friends and family about the decision. You would likely include the pivotal conversations that moved your story along: the day you decided to actually pursue this path, the conversations that encouraged you most, or perhaps a conversation that discouraged you and forced you to overcome fears.

The important moments of the story, when carved out from the bits that can be summarized, often throw a connecting theme into sharp relief.

Our authors learn to do this in our Mastermind groups. They read their work aloud to one another and the rest of the group offers constructive feedback. Hearing “I want to know more about that,” or, conversely, “You lost me at that part,” either encourages you or helps you to refine your writing.

Read Your Entire Manuscript Out Loud

Print your manuscript and read it out loud. Because your brain automatically fills in any gaps, your ear will catch what your eye cannot see.

Author Katie Tracy took this approach when she was close to finishing her book Behind the Closed Door: The Mental Stress of Physical Stuff. Her book is about the mental stress that comes from a messy home environment and how mental health professionals would benefit from partnering with certified professional organizers when working with their stressed-out clients. Here was the challenge: the material in the book could have applied to the messy homeowners themselves, not just their mental health professionals. So, who was the actual audience?

When Katie read her book out loud, her direction was confirmed. It definitely spoke to mental health professionals in their quest to assist others. The theme was clear and she’d presented it well.

In our step-by-step process, our authors read their entire manuscript five times, and two of those times they read it out loud. This helps them find the flow of the book and hear for themselves what should be cut and what’s vital to their story. And then they can find the common thread.

Want to Find Your Book’s Theme?

The Book Professor® can help you discover your common thread. Our individual coaching sessions offer the personalized guidance you need, and our Mastermind classes give you an experience with other aspiring authors and a community of writers. Let’s get started today!