Start your book
How to start writing a non-fiction book
For many people, the biggest barrier to writing their first non-fiction book is just the whole prospect of getting started. They never finish because they never in fact start. And the irony is that, in most cases, if people do start, the floodgates open and the inspiration builds as the early fruits of writing inspire yet more ideas.
But of course, the prospect of sitting down to produced at least 35,000 words that makes sense and that other people will be interested to read, is daunting. So, here are some tips to help you to get started. Each person will have different preferences for how to get organised, focused and motivated, but in my experience in working with budding non-fiction authors, these tips may well work for you.
- Just start writing: Now, this advice needs to be treated with caution, in that to solely do this in the hope that everything will just flow correctly, is a high-risk approach. But it IS a really useful first step. Before you have your structure worked out or even a real plan, if writing is not a natural, habitual process for you, then just break that blank page moment by getting something written. At this stage this really can be anything at all and does not need to be something which will end up in your book. For example, it could be a diary entry of what happened at the weekend; or reaction to something happening in the news; or a draft post responding to something you have seen on Facebook or LinkedIn. The main purpose is to just write, to get you into the habit of typing your thoughts, to express yourself, to begin to find your style. Write at least 500 words and preferably around 1000.
- Evaluate what you have written: Step back from what you have written. Leave it for a couple of days and then go back to it and read it through. Does it make sense? Does it flow? Does it have a logical structure? Does it make a point which it easy to follow? How long are the sentences? How accurate is it in relation to spelling and typos? If judging it objectively is tricky, then be brave and give it to someone else to read and ask them to answer any of those relevant questions. The most common intervention I make when editing a book manuscript is shortening sentences. People ramble on, with endless subordinate clauses, making the point being made difficult to follow. This is an understandable tendency, as it can be easy for your ideas to run away with you. In your head, your point is clear, but what about once it is on the page?
- Correct style issues early on: The main point of following tips 1 and 2 is to try to establish a writing style for your book which will work from the outset. By at least having some reminders to yourself such as “Check apostrophes!”, “Shorten sentences!”, “Add sub-headings!”, following a critique of your initial work, you will save yourself, and potentially an editor, a significant amount of time correcting things later on.
- Go dramatic: As your next piece of writing, focus now on a key episode/point to be included in your book. As I have recommended elsewhere, this may well end up not be in the first section of your completed book, but it will be something which is easy to write. It will flow, there will be vivid writing, a clear story and interesting lessons to be drawn from it. Once written, this will inspire you to continue! It will also spark ideas and help you to develop the next point, the book’s structure.
- Work out the book’s structure: Some people may choose to focus on this task at the outset, and that’s fine. If you are confident in your writing style and have a clear idea of what the book will be about and the key episodes/points you are going to talk about, then skip points 1-4 and focus on creating a clear structure for your book. If points 1-4 have been a useful warm-up, then it’s now time to step back, stop writing and create a coherent plan. At whichever point you choose to do this it cannot be skipped – it is essential! Without a plan and a structure your book will merely read like one thing and then another thing and then another thing and so on. In this way, you will guarantee to lose the interest of your readers after no more than 10 or 20 pages. How many sections? How many chapters? What is my beginning, middle and end? To save you the angst of trying to anticipate all this before you’ve properly started, the easiest thing to do is to make a few basic assumptions and then amend from there. In this blog, Year of the Book, I recommend starting out with a 12-chapter structure, based on thinking about each chapter as a month of the year, 12 in total. This also assumes a 4-season section structure. If you cannot come up with 12 chapter titles/ideas, then probably you don’t have enough content for a book. If you bust out beyond 12, then fine, but 12 gets you to a rounded start-point.
I have created a 4-section/12-chapter book structure planning template which you may find helpful. Ping me a message to obtain a copy. I have also created two completed book structure examples, one for a ‘business journey’ book and one for a ‘life journey’ book. Again, ping me a message if you would like copies of these.