“Stratification” is a fancy word for organizing your thoughts. You may be familiar with the term in its geological sense—it refers to the “strata” or layers of sedimentary rock that can be distinguished from other rock layers.
For writers, though, the word signifies a technique for dividing your non-fiction content into broad chapters for your next book. To illustrate, once – while on a flight from one corporation to another to teach business writing – I was engrossed in a delicious murder mystery when I heard the pilot announce: “We’ll be landing in 20 minutes.”
Quickly, I tossed the book aside, pulled out a sheet of paper, and—by the time we landed—I had my next book outlined. Granted, it was a book about leadership, a topic in which I’ve long been interested. Within minutes, literally, I knew exactly what topics would constitute the content of the book. The classification-technique I used is a simple one, but first, a confession. I do not believe in “writer’s block.” If you are alive, your brain is working. And, if it’s working, you can come up with ideas. Granted, you may not be feeling especially creative or prolific on a given day, but the thoughts you need are in your head. Stratification will help you unlock them.
Here’s how it works. In the center of a large sheet of paper, write the topic of your book. In my example, it was “LEADERSHIP.” (Writing the topic in capitals will help you focus.) Then, draw boxes around that centered work—the number of boxes should approximate the number of chapters you want in your book. It will help if you have an idea of the desired book length in mind. So…if your want a book of about 300 pages, and if you plan on writing about 25 pages in each chapter, then you will need 12 chapters for the book.
Next, on the top of each box, write the first 12 words that come to mind when you think about your central focus. For me, leadership involves “communication,” “teamwork,” “influence,” “authority,” “followers,” “proposals,” “confidence,” “creativity,” “vision,” “power,” “delegation,” and “worth.”
Could other topics have been listed? Of course. But, these were the 12 I thought of—in about a minute and a half. When you write a non-fiction book, you are not attempting to be the ultimate authority on every aspect of the topic. No one book can do that. (Note that if you Google “leadership books 2017,” you will find 188 million entries for that one year alone.) No, your book is not an exhaustive coverage of every element that constitutes the subject on which you are concentrating. Rather, your book will cover the elements of most interest to you and, ideally, to your readers as well.
Put the paper aside for a while to allow your twelve box titles time to “incubate.” After at least an hour, during which you will have given casual thought to both the broad topic and the twelve specific subtopics, pull that paper out again. Now, start to fill in the boxes with ideas related to the subtopics. There are no right or wrong answers here, as long as your thoughts are related to the subtopic. If you are thinking about “communication,” for example, some related thoughts might include meetings, one-on-one discussions, mission statements, progress reports, persuasion, emails, presentations, obtaining approval and so on. You can see in these random thoughts (they popped up more quickly than I could write them down), you would need about three pages for each aspect of the subtopic.
If three pages seems too much to explore a given aspect, break the subtopic into more than eight elements. You could have the chapter deal with accuracy, roles, conflicts, ground rules, and interpersonal relationships, for example. Then, you’d only need two pages or so for each aspect.
In all likelihood, the aspects you listed for each chapter are ones that interest you. And, where there is interest, there is rapidity of thought when it comes to writing.
In conclusion, I will share a question I am almost always asked when I talk about writing: “How could one person write more than 60 books in a lifetime?” The answer is stratification, the secret ingredient in the success recipe. Use it and you’ll find yourself writing more in less time. And….the obvious corollary to this more/less combination is more money in your literary pockets and less stress in your writing life.
Marlene Caroselli, Ed.D., is a corporate trainer, keynoter, and author. She writes about writing, business, and education and has authored hundreds of articles and blogs. She is also the author of 500 Creative Classroom Concepts, Continuous Learning, and Leadership Skills for Managers. Her 62nd book, Applying Mr. Albert: 365+ Einstein-Inspired Brain Boosts, will be released by HRD Press in Fall, 2017.