As a nonfiction writer, you might feel a bit left out during November. Everyone is talking about NaNoWriMo this and NaNoWriMo that. All the while, you want to write a nonfiction book in a month not a novel.
Well, you can, and you should. I have news for you, though. You don’t have to do it as a NaNoRebel or as part of an event created for novelists. You can write your nonfiction book in 30 days during an event for writers just like you—nonfiction writers.
During National Nonfiction Writing Month (NaNonFiWriMo) you can start and finish the draft of your nonfiction book in a month. Just take the Write Nonfiction in November Challenge (WNFIN). No need to even restrict your self to a full-length book; you can finish the final draft of a short book, an article, an essay, a series of blog posts, or your manifesto. As long as you embrace the goal of completing a work of nonfiction, this event is for you.
Let’s say, however, that you do, indeed, want to write a nonfiction book in a month. There’s nothing like a challenge to get your creative juices flowing and to heighten your sense of commitment to completing your project and doing it fast. To meet that goal, though, you need to be prepared before the month starts.
While there are similarities between how fiction and nonfiction writers prepare for a book-in-a-month event, differences exist as well. What you need to do to be ready to get quickly from first to last page of your manuscript by the end of November also has a lot to do with the type of nonfiction book you choose to write.
Let’s take a look at the eight preparatory steps necessary to successfully write a nonfiction book in a month.
1. Choose Your Topic
The first thing you want to do as you prepare for a month-long nonfiction book-writing challenge is choose a topic for your project carefully. This may seem like a no-brainer, but it really isn’t. Remember, you must finish your book in 30 days. (Now, NaNonFiWriMo is not a contest. No one counts your words to see if you won, and you don’t submit anything at the end to prove you finished your project. It’s a personal challenge. Still…you know if you succeed or fail.) Therefore, you don’t want to choose a subject that requires 150,000 words. That would mean you need to complete 5,000 words per day. That’s a tall order to fill for any writer, especially if he or she has a day job.
It’s better to select a topic you can cover in 50,000 words or less. You can write 1,667 words per day over the course of 30 days. If that still feels like a lot, then opt to write a guide, tip book or booklet. Many ebooks sold on Amazon today have only 5,000 to 20,000 words.
Who knows…you might end up with a longer book by month’s end. But don’t start with an unattainable goal. Begin with a topic that lends itself to a word-count that feels doable to you. That gives you a higher chance of success.
2. Create a Content Plan
While you can write a nonfiction book by the seat of your pants, it’s best to have a plan. (Yes, the seatsers vs. planners debate pertains to nonfiction as well as to fiction.) That plan helps you know where you are going so you write in a straight line rather than taking many detours. As you know, the need to make a lot of u-turns takes up a lot of time. When it comes to writing, that means cutting, rewriting and revising. You don’t want to do that if you are going to finish a goodfirst draft or a final draft in a month.
Create an outline or a table of contents for you book. I like to start by brainstorming my topic and then taking all the different topics and organizing them into a book structure. (I use a mind map.) This ends up looking like a table of contents—actually a rather detailed table of contents with chapter titles and subheading titles. You might prefer to just create a simple outline or a bulleted list.
Whatever your method of choice, create something that looks like the structure of a book—a table of contents. And know what content will fill that structure as you create your manuscript. That’s your map.
Then, when you sit down to write each day, you know exactly what to write. In fact, the more detailed you make this plan, the more quickly and easily you will write your book. You will spend little time staring at your computer screen wondering what to write or what comes next. You will know. It will be right there in your writing plan. You’ll just follow the map—your tale of contents—to your destination.
3. Determine What Research You Need
You might think you can write your book “off the top of your head” because you are the expert on the topic. Inevitably, though, you will discover a need to search for something—a URL, a quote, the title of a book. These things can slow down your process. This is where preparation can help keep your fingers on the keyboard typing rather than perusing the Internet.
For each item in your plan—or your detailed table of contents, brainstorm the possible research you need and make note of it.
As you write, if you discover you need more research or interviews, don’t stop writing. Instead, create brackets in your manuscript that say [research here] and highlight them in yellow. Later, do a search for the term “research,” and fill in the gaps. In fact, you can even leave a certain amount of time per week for this activity if you think you will need to do so; this ensures you don’t come to the end of November with a manuscript filled with research holes.
Research, interview, and explore the subjects that interest you. Then write about what you've learned in Writing Nonfiction 101: Fundamentals. Writing nonfiction is a great way for beginner and experienced writers to break into the publishing industry.
4. Create a To-Do List
Look over your content plan. Take all the research items you listed and put them on a to-do list.
Make a list of URLs, books and articles to find. Look for anything you need to do. For instance, does your research require that you visit a certain location? If so, put “Visit XX” on the to do list.
Don’t forget to put interviews on this list. You want to conduct your interviews now, not during November, if at all possible.
5. Gather and Organize Your Materials
Gather as much of your research and other necessary material as you can prior to the end of October. Purchase the books, copy the articles into Evernote.com, copy and past the URLs into a Word doc, or drag them into Scrivener’s research folder, for instance. Get your interviews transcribed as well—and read through them with a highlighter, marking the quotes you think you want to use.
If you are writing memoir, you might want to gather photos, journals and other memorabilia. If you are repurposing blog posts, or reusing any other previously published or written material, you want to put all of this in one place—an online folder, a Scrivener file or a Word file.
Generally, get as much of what you need to write your book in an easily accessible format and location so you aren’t searching for it when you should be writing. Use piles, boxes, hanging folders, computer folders, cloud storage…whatever works best for you.
6. Determine How Much Time You Need
Each nonfiction book is different and requires a different amount of time to write. A research based book takes longer to write, for example, because you have to study, evaluate and determine your opinion of the studies. You have to read the interviews you conducted, choose appropriate quotes and then work those quotes into your manuscript.
If, on the other hand, you write from your own experiences, this take less time. With the exception of drawing on anecdotes, an occasional quote or bit of information from a book, the material all comes from your head. You need only sit down and write about a process you created, your own life story or your area of expertise.
You might normally write 750 words per hour, but the type of book you’ve chosen to write could slow you down to just 500 per hour. Or you might speed up to 1,000 words per hour. Determine how long it will take you on average to compose the number of words you must compete per day to meet your final word-count goal. Then, figure out how many hours per week you need to set aside during November to finish your manuscript. Allow more hours than you think necessary for “unforeseen circumstances,” slow days and a general need for extra time to complete the project the last week of the month.
7. Create a Writing Schedule
Last, create a writing schedule. You now know how much time you need to write your book. Now find those hours in your calendar and block them off.
Make those hours sacred. Nothing other than an emergency should take you away from writing your book during those scheduled writing blocks.
You’ve heard the advice that goes with this:
- Find a quite place to write.
- Limit distractions.
- Get an accountability partner.
- Keep your appointments with yourself.
8. Put a Back-Up System in Place
Yes…this is my last tip, because you just never know what happens. Your computer crashes or dies. You accidentally delete your whole manuscript. Your child dumps milk all over your keyboard.
You want a back up of your NaNonFiWriMo project. Always save it to your computer’s drive and onto a thumb drive or, better yet, into the cloud, for safe keeping! Make these plans in advance as well. You can use Evernote.com, Dropbox.com or Google Drive, for example.
The other thing you need to has little to do with planning. During your 30-day nonfiction writing challenge, you must posses an attitude that supports meeting your goal. You must:
- Be willing to do what it takes
- Remain optimistic about meeting your goal.
- Stay objective about your work.
- Be tenacious and not let anything get in the way of finishing your project.
Those four qualities—Willingness, Optimism, Objectivity and Tenacity—constitute an Author Attitude. With that you will finish your nonfiction book in a month with no problem. Woot!
To learn more about National Nonfiction Writing Month, aka the Write Nonfiction in November Challenge, or to register, click here.