Writing Non Fiction Tips

Recently I sat in on a session with Dr Neeta Bhushan who has now published her book. In that process she gave a talk about lessons learned in writing her book to help other nonfiction writers get it right up front. These are my notes based on her talk and my own input to expand and supplement her words.

What’s your message about? It’s fine to gurble (my word :)) out whatever flies out of your brain when you sit down to write a non fiction book about a topic close to your heart or mind but it’s critical to have a clear purpose to writing that book. Try and succinctly put into a sentence or two the key objective of your proposed book.

Think of your potential audience. I hate this bit. Of course the whole world needs my book. Well, no, darl. It actually isn’t the whole world. The three year old in Dubai, the seventy nine year old suffering mesothelioma in the outer Hebrides, the villager in the Amazon jungle (do they have access to the internet even?) probably don’t need your book on how to quilt a pram cover. But a young mother in the cold steppes of Russia might. Get a clear idea of who is likely to be your ideal reader, who could really use the information you have to convey. What age range? Male or female or other? What are their interest and needs? Take a stab at least of getting this clear.

Why does this message even need to be written? Think about this in real terms. We’re getting at the nub of your need to write and your potential audience’s need to read – what binds these together? Neetha gave the example of her thoughts which were around the idea that too many people were struggling.

Identify the top 3-4 principal ideas your audience will learn or takeaway from reading your book. Is it a new mindset, a method or system they can use, a practical application they can employ?

For each takeaway list 1-5 steps for them to take to get the learning embedded. For example, if mindset was your principal idea, maybe you will walk them through setting expectations, tackling fear, how to use coaching as a skillset.

Then, for each step, find a way to make it clear for them:

  • an example
  • underpinning research
  • an interview
  • an exercise
  • a case study
  • some statistics
  • a story that highlights the point
  • blocks or stepping stones to demonstrate

Now you’re ready to write! Build your book by following these steps and it’s almost a fill-as-you-go process. In fact, I’ve drafted a worksheet you can use right here.

Using this methodology you can put together a more cogent and thoughtful nonfiction book which will more readily find its audience and give them exactly what they need to solve a problem they have. After all, isn’t that what you’re aiming to do?


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