Writing Non Fiction

Non-fiction is not fiction. Duh. It’s generally material which is objective, factual, and useful. I’m not including narrative nonfiction here but the principles could equally apply.

If you plan to write non-fiction, (and you should because everyone knows something about something, right?) then it pays to think more broadly about the type of publishing format you might use or the various ways to use that content.

  • educational or instructional books
  • short books
  • industry whitepapers
  • articles for magazines and other media
  • booklets as handouts or giveaways
  • lecture summary
  • blog posts for your sites or other peoples
  • notes for course participants

There are probably many other ways to use that content that sits inside your cerebellum. If writing a book seems too arduous or imposterish then why not take a snippet of information or experience and parlay that into an article or ten. What about outlining a set of topics you might include in a book and write each one of those up as a separate short book or blog post? Dean Wellesley Smith (look him up and be blown away – over 200 books including non fiction) is known to set himself a task (such as writing a book in five days while traveling), set it up as a series of blog posts as he goes live on the challenge and then produces a book from those blog posts. Writing up a focused series is a fine way o turn a topic into a complete book or series of booklets.

What’s the defining factor in publishing in any of these formats?

You have to write the darn thing. Can’t publish anything you haven’t written no matter how much research or reading you do on the matter.

So sit down and think about what you know stuff about. You don’t need to be a world expert. If you really can’t think of a topic you could write about, try this exercise:

  1. Draw a circle in the middle of a piece of paper.
  2. Put in the circle “what I know about”.
  3. Stick some arrows coming out of that circle.
  4. At the end of each arrow draw another circle and jot down something you know about – maybe its how to code in Python, what to do after a marriage breaks down, how to pull yourself out of a slump, ways to win at Bridge, whatever – there is a range of things every person knows about – jot down as many as you can think of at the end of all those arrows.
  5. When you’ve exhausted your mind (its ok, you can add more arrows later) cast your eye over the circles and mark which ones you would feel most confident about talking to a friend who might not know as much as you about it. Maybe there’s two or three circles that are related in some way – join them up as subtopics in a broader topic.
  6. Pick one and start writing.
  7. If it’s a big topic then draft a few subtopics.
  8. If in doubt, fall back to the seven soldiers – who, what, why, when, where, which, how. Example: Who needs to learn python? What do they need to learn? Why is it important? When is it best to scale up? Where to get more info? Which method is better/easier? How does one code a countdown calculator? Keep asking questions starting with those soldiers and you’ll end up with a solid book or set of blog posts etc.
  9. Can’t write without going blank? Talk it out. Every phone and laptop pretty much has a recording feature. Speak as if you were telling friend and then transcribe it. There are services that do that (search audio to text converters) but one I use is OtterAI. It has a free version that is quote adequate once it gets used to your voice and that doesn’t take long at all.

But I don’t know what format to publish it in?

Don’t let that stop you! Just get the material down. You can always edit, massage, modify, enhance, expand, revise anything once you have it written.

Of course, if you decide up front to write a series of blog posts, or an article, or a book, then write a draft to suit that option. Simply don’t let that decision hold you up from actually getting content on the page.

Hang on, I’ve just realised I’ve written some stuff before – can I use those?

Well, hello! Absolutely you can. In fact if you’ve ever presented a paper, written an article, a booklet, given a lecture, written some blog posts, run a course, then you can definitely pull that material together, edit it and fashion it into a publishing format you can use. You’re already half way there. The challenge for you is finding that original content, looking for the commonality of a message or story to turn it into a book or repurpose it into a published piece of some sort.

Whether you can recycle past material or create new material from your own knowledge bank the key is to decide on an approach, make it a project, schedule it, and dedicate time to it to get it done.

Come on. I want to see what you’ve written. Get to it 🙂


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