About Writing Non-fiction

By | August 14, 2014

Keep note of your ideas or don't at your own peril!
People who are thinking about writing a non-fiction book often compare it to the Olympian feat of writing a novel. The fact is that writing non-fiction couldn’t be more different than writing a fiction novel. Still, if you’re looking to create a non-fiction bestseller you need to prepare yourself for the task at hand. Without proper preparation you won’t be able to create a publishable book, let alone a bestseller.

This article will walk you through the steps you need to take to write a non-fiction book. Not only that, but to do it productively, efficiently, and with the highest chance of success. Before publishing non-fiction there are a number of things you need to consider. Before that, however, it’s worth spending a few moments thinking about how well non-fiction publishing is suited to you. If you come to the conclusion it is something you should indeed pursue, by all means go on.


To help you make that decision ask yourself the following questions:


Do you have information to share?


Do you know how to put simple sentences together?


Can you insert an image into a word document?


If the answer to those simple questions was “yes” then it’s time to pad yourself on the back or do a celebratory dance. You have taken the first step towards creating your very own non-fiction empire!


After all this celebration it is tempting to go into the project half-cocked. Don’t! Some preparation is needed. As the good Abraham Lincoln said:


Give me six hours to chop down a tree and I will spend the first four sharpening the axe.


He was not wrong. After all, writing non-fiction for the first time truly is a journey – a journey into the unknown. It is only sensible that go into it well prepared. In spite of all the insecurities you might have, face it with courage and common sense and you’ll do allright.


Here are some simple tips to get you started:


1 – Getting ideas


I always like to say that getting 10 bad ideas is better than getting no ideas at all. Spend some time thinking about what you might write a book about. You can get ideas from every aspect of your daily life. You can write non-fiction books about whatever it is you do in your day-job, if you have one, your hobbies and interests, your personal experiences, and so on. Write all ideas down on a piece of paper or store them on your computer. The free application Evernote is great for gathering ideas. You can use Evernote on your smartphone, tablet or your computer. The best thing about Evernote it that you can access your ideas wherever you have Internet access.



2 – Performing research


The importance of research cannot be underestimated. Yet, it is not something that should consume your life. You need to timebox a set amount of time to perform research. If I know a topic well I dedicate 1 hour to research. If you don’t know the topic at all you might want to spend as much as 10 hours doing research.
This microscope signifies the importance of doing research, as you do with microscopes. Just not so much on the Internet.
Timeboxing means deciding on a set amount of time and sticking to it. If I decide to timebox 1 hour for research I literally set a timer to 60 minutes and stop doing research when the alarm goes off. If you don’t decide on a specific amount of time you’ll end up doing research forever. That’s just the nature of the beast.

3 – Writing an outline


There is nothing scarier than a blank screen. Ok, there might be some things that are scarier, but as a writer the blank screen is the enemy. The most efficient way to beat the blank screen is to create an outline. As soon as you have that all you have to do is fill in the blanks, and the screen is no longer blank.


What do I put in my outline then?


If I know the topic beforehand I have a pretty good idea what points I want to cover. I organize those in a way that makes sense and use that as the overall outline. If I don’t know the topic I rely on my research. There will be some important points I discover along the way and those are the ones I use for my outline.


Metaphorically, writing non-fiction involves somewhat more than just waking up one day to say, “hey, I have a great idea, I want to write non-fiction.” Possibly, that is a first step, however in order to actually accomplish some success when it comes to writing non-fiction, you must prepare and enable yourself to succeed with the preparations.



The Truth About Writing Non-fiction


Since the earliest days of human history we as a race have thrived on the sharing of information. The reason mankind is on top of the food chain is that we learn from each other and from the past. Now, it used to be you learned from those in your vicinity. Information “written” on the wall of a cave was pretty hard to share across the globe. These days that’s not a problem.


You may have asked yourself if you have information to share that others are willing to read. Information people would willingly cough up cash to learn. If your answer is “no” you need to hit yourself hard on the head. Real hard. Everybody knows something someone else is dying to learn. Some people let themselves be held back by the knowledge there are bigger experts on the topic out there. It’s true, but they can’t share the information with your voice. Sometimes your voice is just what someone needs to really “get” the information.


You already also answered the question “do you know how to put simple sentences together?” It may seem like a silly question to ask, but a lot of aspiring writers worry about their writing skills. The truth is that writing non-fiction has nothing to do with your linguistic skills. The important thing is that you explain things in your own voice. People don’t want another smoothly polished book. They want your personality as much as the information you intend to share.


Congratulations for taking this important first step. You have only gotten this far because you haven’t given up on your dream of becoming a non-fiction author. It may not seem like much, but it is actually a huge step. Out of all the millions of people who have ever considered publishing a non-fiction ebook your chance of being successful is already far bigger than 99% of all the others. Just by taking the time to test whether or not it is something you could do your are way ahead of the rest. You have answered the initial questions of this article and now know what you need to do to get good traction for your project.


By doing the preparation outlined your mind is now primed on the task at hand. You have set the target and even as you’re reading this your brain is raring to go. As soon as you get BIC (butt in chair) in front of your keyboard you will be astounded by how much easier it is than you initially feared.


If you take a look at all those who has been successful non-fiction authors in the past you will see that their success comes from few very simple facts. The did their due diligience. They didn’t go into the project half-cocked without a plan of action. That’s very important. What’s also important is perseverance. Whatever it is you write there will be times when…well…when things just plain sucks. That’s life. Those who succeed are those who work through it. When that inner voice of insecurity, procrastination, and fear tells you to quit, you need to look it straight in the eyes and reply: “no.”


Don’t think of writing quitting. Writing non-fiction requires someone to be knowledgeable, determined and hard-working. We already know that. Whenever you ask yourself if it’s time to quit there can be only one answer: “not yet.”


With that in mind you are now equipped to go into the steps involved with writing non-fiction, and you’ll be able to savor your future victories that much more.


Just remember, getting ideas is one of the vital core requirements to succeed. As long as the ideas keep popping up you owe it to yourself and the world to share them. Anytime your mind relays to you that writing non-fiction is something maybe you are unable to do, keep in mind that you will be able to eliminate the negativity and maintain focus until success is achieved. Simply because that’s what you do. Let’s examine what is needed for preparation now that our thought process is in the right place!



Writing Non-fiction – Step by Step AKA Finally!


Step 1 – Get Ideas

This bit will be short. We covered much of this earlier, but getting ideas is how you build an empire. You will get ideas from work situations, hobbies, daily life, magazines, books, the Internet, and many more places. Make sure to save all your ideas. Don’t start working on them right away. Let them simmer for a while and don’t let them get in the way of your current project.


Step 2 – Research Ideas

When you’ve given a specific idea the go ahead it’s time to research the topic. Even if it’s a topic you know well it’s a good idea to spend at least an hour or two researching. More often than not you’ll find something you need to have in your book you hadn’t thought off.


If you don’t know the topic you’ll obviously have to spend a lot more time. Don’t spend more than two workdays unless you absolutely have to. Tasks tend to expand to fill out the amount of time allotted to them.


Step 3 – Create Outline

Your research will have revealed a number of important points that you need to cover in your non-fiction book. Those points more often than not lend themselves quite well to chapter headers in a non-fiction book.


Step 4 – Fill In the Blanks

This step contains the “actual writing.” It is an important step, obviously, and one that often leave aspiring writers with cold sweat running down their backs. At this point you have validated your idea, you have researched your topic and you have created an outline.


Those 3 steps are designed to make this one as easy as possible. If you played your cards right in steps one through three all you’ve got left is to fill in the blanks of your outline. Don’t overthink every single word you write. The time you’ve spent during the early stages of the process means your brain already knows what to do. All you have to do is free it from the restraints of your doubts and fears.


That means you have to stop thinking and start typing. That may seem contradictory, but it is in fact critically important. If you constantly pause during your writing to edit stuff you’re not letting your brain do its thing. You need to let it roll with whatever it comes up with and leave the critical side of you for later stages.


Trust your gray matter!


Step 5 – Spell-Check and Basic Editing

Now your first draft is ready. YAY!


Getting to this point will at one time have seemed impossible. Now it’s turned out to be more than possible, now…you know…that you’ve…errmm…done it.


Remember how in step 4 you had to tell the critical side of you to shut up? Well, now you get to let that side of you tear your work apart. Don’t worry if you find a lot of stuff you think sucks. That’s part of the process. It’s why you edit.


The first stage of editing is to spell-check and correct blatant errors. This is not the stage where you turn everything into a piece of perfect non-fiction literature. Just spell-check and correct things you really have to correct.


Step 6 – Send To Critics

This is the part of the process where you let spouses and other critical loved ones have a free hit at your ego. Give them the text you’ve written so far and tell them to rip you to shreds.


It might not seem like a good idea, but it’s far better to have this done by people who care about you than by random people on the Internet.


Step 7 – Edit As Per Feedback

Hopefully, your first line of critics will have given you something to work with. Ideally, they’ll have found all the weak spots and told you what you need to improve.


The more they find the closer you will get to a publishable book.


Make the edits required based on their feedback


Step 8 – Send To Editor

Friend and relatives are a good source of critics, but before you publish you should, if you can in any way afford it, run your book by a professional editor. A professional editor makes a living reading books and giving feedback on what works and what doesn’t work.


There are sources on the Internet where you can find good editors at relatively low prices. A Google search should get you a few steps further.


Step 9 – Do Final Edits

When you get feedback from your editor it’s time to implement the edits suggested. Ideally you’ll want to run through steps 8 and 9 multiple times, but at some point you’ll have to stop the editing process.


When you get to that point your book is ready for publication. Congratulations! You are a non-fiction author.


Step 10 – Rinse and Repeat

What’s next?


You do it all again, and again, and again.


That’s how empires are built. Just remember, now that you’ve done it before it’s easier than it was the first time.


Step 11 – Write Every Day!

No matter how long you’ve been a writer you’ll always have the feeling that you could do better. That you could be a better writer.

You’re right.

All writers can be better writers than they already are. The key is to keep writing, keep reading, and keep studying your craft.

Good luck!


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *