characters sitting on a book

If you’re thinking of writing a book you probably have the subject in mind, but how do you get from an idea to a finished manuscript?

I’m talking about non-fiction books in this article – there are different approaches to fiction and non-fiction, and non-fiction is usually easier to put together.

First step: Make sure someone else hasn’t just published something very, very similar

While you make your book unique, because it’s your thoughts on the subject, there’s only so many ways to rehash any subject – unless you’ve come up with something revolutionary or a different way of looking at your subject.

Doing this research has a dual purpose.  Not only are you ensuring you’re not reinventing the wheel, but it will also give you more ideas about what kind of approaches to your subject work – and what don’t.

Second step: Plan your content first

This process creates your skeleton plan.  First plan out the subjects for each chapter, then add what you want to include in each one in more detail.  You can include:

  • Theory
  • Anecdotes and stories
  • Case studies
  • Quotes
  • Models and diagrams
  • Exercises or activities

Third step: Create your chapter ‘recipe’

Before you start organising the content you’ve gathered, think about what your chapter structure will look like. 

  • Will there be an introduction?
  • Will you start with a story or quotation?
  • Will each chapter feature a case study?
  • Will the chapter be broken into sections under subheadings?
  • Will you end the chapter with a summary, a quotation or an action plan?

These are just a few of the things you’ll need to consider.  Once you’ve decided on your recipe, then each chapter needs to follow that.

Fourth step: Fit your content into the recipe structure for each chapter

I usually do this as a mind-map, but if you like lists then by all means do a list.  Effectively you’ll have a template for each chapter and you just need to add the content into the template.  Now you have your skeleton plan.

Fifth step: Write around your skeleton plan

Writing your book should now be reasonably easy as you’re literally filling in the gaps and expanding your material.

While there’s no rule about how long a book should be – you’ll need to aim at a minimum of about 40,000 words to give you a book that has substance and is thick enough to be visible on a bookshelf.  If it’s too thin it will disappear among the other books – not good news when your book is on the bookseller’s shelves.

If you’ve got ten chapters that means you’re aiming at around 4,000 words per chapter.  If you aim to write a chapter each week, your book will be done in ten weeks!

However, procrastination is the writer’s biggest enemy – so my advice is put regular time slots in your diary and treat them as critical appointments.  You’ll find that your manuscript grows quicker than you might have thought it will.