If you’re a first-time nonfiction writer, you’ll need to have access to the best tips for writing you can find – your tactics – as well as a clear writing strategy.
Chinese general Sun Tzu wrote in his seminal book The Art of War: “Strategy without tactics is the slowest route to victory. Tactics without strategy is the noise before defeat.” You’ll find my article about effective writing strategies here. In the current post, I’m turning your attention to the tactics that are necessary to speed up the process.
Tips For New Writers
As a new writer, you don’t have the hindsight of experience to inform your day-to-day choices. One of your worst enemies on this path will be not knowing the best steps to take, and as someone who’s running your own business you don’t have the luxury of time to learn by trial and error.
The ten tips below are time-tested tactics used by the most prolific nonfiction writers because they get the job done. Use them every day and watch your time investment decrease while your output increases.
Tips For Writing a Nonfiction Book
When it comes to writing tips it’s easy to become overwhelmed by the sheer number of tactics available out there, especially when doing online searches, so I’ve reduced them to the most effective set of tips for first-time authors.
Best Writing Tips for Nonfiction
Without further ado, here are the ten tips for writing a nonfiction book that moves the needle in your business:
Tip 1: Schedule Time to Write Every Day
Consistency is the key to quality. The more often you write, the more you’ll be exercising your writing muscle and the better your writing will become over time. There’s simply no shortcut for time spent at the wheel.
Make sure you create a two-hour writing block every day, or at the very least six days a week, and make sure you don’t skip it on days when you don’t feel like writing.
Professional writers (or musicians, or any artistic expert for that matter) practice daily whether they feel like it or not. They’re being paid for the quality of their work, and they know that their quality will suffer unless they commit to a disciplined regime of practice.
This is no different than any other paid commitment – even an entrepreneur like you has a responsibility towards your clients that make you go to work even when you don’t feel like it.
Even though you’re not being paid to write your book, you’re creating it in order to grow your business. Since your book will carry your professional reputation, you have to be able to put out the best possible product – this is something you can’t cut corners on.
But you have to guard against writer workaholism. You have to make sure you remain consistent throughout the week and resist the temptation for write for 3 or 4 hours or more at a time. It’s okay to feel inspired, but it’s not okay to reach creative exhaustion. You’ll then be tempted to skip a day to re-charge your “author batteries” since you’ve already covered you daily quota for the next day.
Don’t fall into this trap. If you have a lot of creative juices left after your writing block for that day, just write down these ideas in your notebook and use them to restart your writing session the next day.
You always want to write from a place of creative abundance and never reach a stage where you feel creatively spent.
Tip 2: Make Your Writing Space Sacred
Select a writing space that is conducive to your creativity. What space you choose will depend on your personality. Some people like total peace and quiet and will choose a space at home where they can be undisturbed. Other people need to be in a public place like a coffee shop or a library.
Do whatever works for you, but in all cases, set it up in such a way that you’ll not be interrupted under any circumstances, short of force majeure. If you’re at home, enlist the help of your family so they know that you’re not to be disturbed throughout your writing block.
Also enlist the help of friends and business associates by letting them know that they won’t be able to reach you during this time. Turn the sound of your computer to mute and set your mobile devices to do-not-disturb.
Equally important is to ensure that you just write during your writing block and not read or reply to emails, and that you don’t go online to conduct any research. Any type of research activities that you need to perform in order to write your book must be done outside of your writing blocks.
Many highly successful nonfiction authors recommend that you actually disconnect yourself entirely from the Internet during this time, unless you’re using an online writing app like Google Docs. If you do, my advice is to at least mute your computer or tablet to minimize the sound of notifications from calling your attention and breaking your flow.
Tip 3: Carry a Notebook Wherever You Go
Since you’re writing a nonfiction book that’s centered on your own experience and skills, you’ll be flooded with ideas throughout the day. Many of these ideas will be great but very fleeting, so carry a small notebook with you at all times.
Now, you could also use your phone to capture notes as well, but I find having to type one key at a time on a small screen too slow compared to hand writing. Don’t commit your ideas to memory to be captured on your computer later. Half the time you won’t be able to recall them.
Some people like to tape themselves using the voice-recording app on their smartphones. This can work too, especially when you have a whole bunch of ideas that come together at the same time (talking is even quicker than hand-writing). The only drawback is that you’ll then have to budget time to transcribe your audio, which can be time consuming.
Do whatever works for you, but make sure that you capture ideas in real time as much as possible. Often the best ideas will come when you least expect them!
Tip 4: Take a Pleasant Walk Before Sitting Down to Write
This is a practice I highly recommend, especially when writing isn’t your primary activity and your mind is consumed in your day-to-day business.
The goal here is to create a buffer between your business mind and your writing mind. Based on where you live and work, try to walk in nature if possible. If not, go for a walk in an area that’s creatively inspiring, even if it’s man-made.
Now, this walk has to be conscious in nature. What you don’t want is to be walking on “autopilot” rehashing the events of the day, or being “still in the office” in your mind. For your walk to be effective in helping you switch gears, you have to be present and conscious of your surroundings, the sights, the scents, the colors and the textures.
If you’re thinking about something else, then you’re not really there. This type of conscious walk is sometimes referred to as a walking meditation, in that your goal is to turn off your critical mind and focus on your sensory perceptions instead.
Your goal is to fill your mind with your surroundings and not with random repetitive thoughts from another time and space. Now, it might take some practice to get your mind to quiet down and not fill every waking second with background mental noise. But when you get good at it, you’ll find that when you do sit down to write, your creative flow increases.
Tip 5: Write From a Stream of Consciousness
During your writing blocks, you want to train yourself to write from a stream of consciousness. You already know what you’re going to be writing about (read my writing strategy blog post here for more details) so your goal is to open the floodgates of your mind and let it flow unimpeded. Information is aching to come out of your brain and onto the page – you just have to let it do so without any impediment.
In this stage, you’re not concerned with quality but quantity. Don’t filter this raw content by engaging your critical mind and thinking thoughts like “I want to say something meaningful,” or “I want to write something with quality.” This critical-thinking activity will dampen your creative flow.
Your goal is to engage the right side of your brain and to minimize interference by the left side. Your critical thinking will come in very handy later at the self-editing and rewrite stages, but will be counterproductive during the initial writing stage.
Once you’ve completed this stage, it’s time to give your writing some shape. It’s okay now to engage your critical thinking to self-edit your content and make it flow better. Make it a practice at the end of each writing week to take an hour out of a writing block to edit what you’ve written so far.
Tip 6: Re-Write Every Chapter At Least Once
Whenever you finish an entire chapter, take a full writing block or longer if necessary to do a top-to-bottom rewrite. So far, you’ve been editing your writing in sections, perhaps a sub-chapter or two at a time on a weekly basis. But now, it’s time to put on your editor hat. Look at your writing from the eyes of your audience and answer the following questions:
- Is the chapter flowing as originally intended or has it deviated from your outline?
- Is the chapter written with your reader as the central subject or is it written for an audience of peers?
- Is the chapter taking your reader through a clear and engaging journey or is it academic and dry?
- Is your authentic voice coming through in the text or is it hidden?
- Is the chapter connecting with your audience at an emotional level or at an intellectual level?
- Are you giving your reader everything you’ve got, or are you holding back critical information?
- Is the chapter written from a foundation of compassion and empathy for your reader or from a pedagogic framework?
- Is the chapter transitioning clearly to the following chapter or does the transition feel too labored?
- Are the ideas in your chapter presented in a logical way or are they confusing to your reader?
Tip 7: Take Time to Learn the Rules of Grammar
Before you begin writing, it’s important that you familiarize yourself with the basic rules of grammar, punctuation and capitalization. You don’t need to become an expert, but you do need to have command of the basics.
Don’t spend too much time on this task. You don’t have to sign up for courses or read entire textbooks. Just do an online search for grammar, punctuation and capitalization rules and visit credible sites.
Most of the rules you already know but need a refresher, and there will be some new rules you didn’t know about. The goal, however, is not for you to become a master but to produce as good a manuscript for your editor as you possibly can, so that they can focus more of their time on substantive editing (e.g. ensuring that your manuscript fulfills its purpose and is suitable for your intended audience).
Tip 8: Don’t Write to Impress, Write to Connect
The main purpose of your content is to connect with your target audience. Your choice of words and style of writing must address their needs. You have to write in language that is simple to understand, yet not simplistic.
By the same token, you don’t want to write to impress by using “elegant” and perhaps complex words, when simpler words exist to convey the same thoughts. Your audience is craving connection, not to be lectured.
They know you’re the expert already, and they accept that you know more than they do about the root of their problems and how to solve them, but they subconsciously expect that you’ll teach them by bringing yourself to their level.
If you become the guru pontificating from a mountaintop, all your truths will become ineffectual because your audience will think that what you offer is unattainable. They’ll perceive you to be in such an enlightened state compared to where they are that they’ll give up before they even try your solution.
But if you create a strong connection first and show your audience that you were once where they are now, they’ll be able to identify and connect with you at a human level and will be much more open to your message.
Tip 9: Use the Power of Story-Telling
Fiction is the most successful genre of creative communication to ever exist, whether in written form (the top three fiction authors have sold a combined 7 billion books to date) or on film (fiction blockbusters generate a box office of tens of billions of dollars every year).
The reason is simple. Our brains are pre-wired for story telling. By becoming engrossed in the journey of a story that is well told, we become invested in its characters and we’re able to absorb information more readily.
This knowledge makes story telling a great device for problem-solving nonfiction. Use client stories or personal stories that showcase your solutions at work as much as possible in your book. It’ll become much more enjoyable to read and, if done well, it’ll make your book a page-turner!
Tip 10: Get Feedback as You Write
Whenever you write in order to serve a specific audience, make sure that you involve members of that audience early on in the writing cycle. Enlist a select group of advance readers from your audience, ideally five people, and hand them chapters as soon as you finish them so that they can provide you with feedback.
Don’t expect suggestions on how to fix things. All you need to know is what works and what doesn’t work so that you can go back to the drawing board.
The reason I’m discouraging you from focusing on suggestions, is that when you enlist five people you’ll get five different suggestions on how to fix things, often times polar opposites, which isn’t what you’re looking for. What you’re looking for is consensus on what works (the “keepers”) and on what doesn’t work (“the gonners”).
If three out of five people say that a certain section is great and the other two say that it doesn’t work, then that section stays (or can be slightly improved if you received actionable feedback). So, act on majority rule.
Congratulations! You now have a set of writing tactics that if used in conjunction with some good writing strategies will maximize your chances of success in your nonfiction-writing journey. I’ve also written a companion article entitled: The 10 Must-Have Writing Skills for Nonfiction Authors where you’ll learn the “secret sauce” that bestselling nonfiction authors use to create highly popular books.
Leave me a comment below if you have any questions or a specific need that I can help you address – I operate an author services firm that specializes in helping entrepreneurs, professionals and business owners who want to publish books as a calling card for prospects, to establish their status as an expert or to generate additional leads for their businesses.
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Bennett R. Coles is an award-winning author of six books published through Harper Collins (New York) and Titan Publishing Group (London). He is also the publisher at Promontory Press, editor for multiple bestselling authors (including a NY Times bestseller), ghostwriter for CEOs and politicians and the founder of Cascadia Author Services, a boutique full-service firm that specializes in premium author services specifically designed for busy professionals. Our end-to-end services include writer coaching, ghostwriting, editing, proofing, cover design, book layout, eBook production, marketing, printing and distribution.