Wednesday, October 22, 2008

How do You Begin?

How do you start the work on a non-fiction book? Do you create an outline? Do you make a list of chapters to be covered? Do you sit down and write pages on everything you already know on the subject? Make a list of people you need to interview?

I’m starting a book for TSTC Publishing. My first step is to go online and google the subject. And google and google. I gather all the information I can find, print it out and begin highlighting. I’m trying to find out everything I DON’T know. Which, in the case of this book, is a lot.

My next step (as I continue learning more) is to interview or talk with an expert. From him I hope to get other contacts of people I can interview.

And I’ll continue googling and reading as I begin setting up interviews.

At some point, I’ll have to start writing. But I haven’t learned enough to do that yet. But it’ll be soon. I only have two and a half months before I have to turn in the book.

And I just found out I have 6 people and a large dog coming for Christmas and New Years. I’m hoping they like each other because I only have one guest bed. My office has a pull-out couch, but I’ll be in there with the door locked.


  1. Congratulations. It's always good to have the challenge of trying something new.

  2. Congrats on the contract, Helen, and kudos for having the chutzpah to embark on a different kind of literary project. My only non-fiction pub so far is my memoirs, so I hardly had to do any research. Well, quite a bit on drug usage in america, the book does have a short bibliography to back up facts and figures quoted.

    I look forward to not only the book you write, but the on-topic related posts here as well.

  3. Hi Helen,
    Amazing, exciting and scary to work on a project you are not completely familiar with.

    Since you're such a thorough person, I'm sure you'll learn much more about the subject than you could ever dream about or want to know.

    Morgan Mandel

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  5. Yay Helen! I've written quite a few software manuals, does that count as non-fiction? Although I admit it gets to the fictional realm, when I'm writing about yet-to-be-implemented features like they already exist :)

    Gathering information is great, but I like to start writing as soon as possible. I find the process of writing actually stimulates my brain into thinking of new questions, whereas research and information overload kind of overwhelm me!

  6. I can't give you any advice but want to say CONGRATS. An over-the-holidays deadline isn't fun though. I've done that! Try to remember what's really important when the guests start arriving.

  7. Thank you one and all for all the congrats and good vibes.

    And I think you're right, Emma, about starting the writing. I've been thinking about doing that. I think I'll start by writing the introduction and see how it sounds.

    The sooner I get the words on paper, the sooner I can start editing.

    So far, writing non-fiction and writing fiction are almost opposites. When I write fiction, I do research as I go along or sometimes highlight or mark things that I know I'll have to go back to research.

  8. That is awesome, Helen. Congratulations. For me, writing nonfiction tends to be creative. I write a lot of memoirs and creative nonfiction, so I generally just start writing since most of what I need to know is inside already. When writing non-memoir based nonfiction, I usually immerse myself in research for awhile, taking notes, and such. Good luck on your endeavor!

  9. Congrats!

    I'm a speechwriter and I always start with a loose outline filled with the questions I want to answer. Then, the research, which leads to more questions. I'm sure you'll do great! I hope your family slides you a sandwich or two under your locked office door. :)

  10. Karen, they'll probably be banging on the door wanting the number for pizza delivery.

  11. Helen,
    Congratulations on the contract. It's fascinating that you are writing about a subject you're not familiar with. One advantage is that have to learn about the subject so you won't inadvertently assume that readers have pre-existing knowledge that you do. I've heard that McDonald's always uses its second-newest employees to train the newest because a fairly new worker has to consciously remember every step while someone who has making hamburgers for years does it so automatically, they forget to explain things a new person doesn't know.

  12. Lillie, I think that's fascinating about McDonald's. I'd never heard that, but can certainly see the logic in it!


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