7 Guidelines for Writing a Nonfiction Book

If you are contemplating writing a book, sooner or later you are going to have to commit words to paper or screen. There are 53,524 books on writing skills listed on Amazon, which tells you this is a very popular subject. However, you can read all 53,524 books and still not get your book written if you don’t apply your seat to the chair and your fingers to the keys. For many would-be authors, that is the toughest part of the process. Here are seven suggestions to make it a little easier for you.

1. Your first book should not be your first experience with writing.

That would be like going from grammar school to graduate school. You need to be comfortable with the writing process before you tackle a book. You should be sure you can actually write well enough to be able to focus your attention on other things, such as organization, process, and deadlines.

2. Create a plan with firm deadlines.

When it’s time to write, write. Start with your drop-dead deadline, and work backwards to the present time. Include editing, copyediting, revisions, and extra time for the unknown and unknowable. If there isn’t enough time between then and now, change the final deadline or publication date.

3. Find your own way of writing.

One way is to just let it pour and fix it later; another is to write a little, fix it; write a little more; fix it; and so forth. Try to develop a sense of when something is just plain wrong—when a sentence is forced or awkward or wordy or phony—and don’t be afraid to hit the delete key.

4. Learn to edit your own work.

Be scrupulously honest with yourself. If you get that little pang of doubt, listen to it. At first, it’s like a tiny inner voice whispering, yuck. Later, if you’re lucky, it gets louder. Don’t con yourself, and don’t fall in love with your own pearls on paper. On the other hand, don’t polish until you take all the luster off the page. Know when to stop editing.

5. Don’t hurry.

Figure out how much time you need, and plan accordingly. Writing can’t be rushed. You’re not trying to make the early edition; you’re writing a book, perhaps your first. Between writing times, do something other than think about the book. Leave space between work sessions. Take a day to review research, and then sleep on it. Write, reread, leave it alone, and sleep on it. Much creativity takes place while you’re sleeping.

6. Take care of your health.

Eat well; sleep as much as you need to; stretch frequently; exercise. This is work you’re doing. It’s a marathon, not a sprint. A little training will go a long way.

7. Give yourself a well-deserved pat on the back for a job well done.

You set a challenge for yourself — sometimes, only a few pages; sometimes, more — and you met it. You have done what you set out to do. You have worked on your book, and you should be very proud of yourself. If you haven’t yet gotten the hang of self-congratulations, this is a good time to start.

Be prepared for the sense of letdown when you’re finished. It’s a little like postpartum depression. You’ve been focusing on this baby for a long time. If it’s only nine months, you’re lucky. When you finally hold either the finished manuscript or the published book in your hands, don’t be surprised if you don’t feel what you expected to feel. It’s great if you are excited, but it’s natural if you are not. Be open to whatever you feel.

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