Writing nonfiction, Planning

Writing a nonfiction book is a world away from writing a fiction book. As I travel this brand new terrain, I’m taking you along for the ride.

Don’t forget to read part one of this series, Research, if you missed it. 

Today we’re talking about one of my favorite parts of writing a nonfiction book, planning it.

Don’t laugh, I’m not joking.

Planning a nonfiction novel is designing the skeletal system of the whole book. You’re figuring out what’s going to go where as you gather information and write content. It’s like the sketching a painter might do before beginning a painting.

When planning a nonfiction book, I find it’s best to start with your goal. When I’m working on an Off The Bone episode, I always remember my main goal is to provide the background you might not know about stories you probably love.

Knowing the goal of your project will guide you through the whole process. Is your goal to convey information? Do you want to inspire others to act? Are you sharing a personal story to convey comfort and comradery? It doesn’t matter what your goal is, so long as you have one. Otherwise, why are you writing a book at all?

I know this kind of sounds like a school essay. I think we all learned these sorts of essay writing styles. An informative essay, entertaining, persuasive. And yeah, it kind of is like that. It’s also super not like that, but we’ll talk more about that in a future post. 

Once you have your goal, it’s time to make your outline. Now, the information going into your outline is going to vary wildly depending on what kind of nonfiction book you’re writing.

The project I’m working on right now relies a lot on personal essays. They tell a story. So, it was easy to use this as a large part of my outline. Through this, I add in interviews and helpful (hopefully) charts to support the points I’m making in the book.

I made my outline on Notion. You can use any outline software or even pen and paper. But I’ve been loving Notion for my project organization. (If you want to see a post about how I use Notion in addition to my bullet journal, let me know in the comments below.)

The outline helps me out through the entire project. I can see easily how much work still needs to be done on the book. I can also see at a glance if the book is a little unbalanced. For instance, if I see that I have a lot of personal essays, I know I need to set up more interviews. If all of my interviews are personal ones, I know I need to hit up some professionals. 

It’s also kind of inspiring to watch my outline fill out as I work. You all know I love visualizing progress. 

I have just one more bit of advice for planning your nonfiction novel. It might be the most important bit of advice yet.

Leave room for what might surprise you. 

You’re going to do a ton of work on a nonfiction novel. Like, I don’t think you realize how much work goes into this. And as you do this good work, you’re going to find things that surprise you. That might throw your entire plan totally off the rails. And I highly suggest you make space for that.

Or, as it’s hard to leave space for the unexpected, I’d encourage you to be flexible. You never know what you’re going to learn. And nothing is ever set in stone until it’s printed. 

I hope that you’ve enjoyed this series so far. I’ll see you next week. And if you have any questions regarding nonfiction writing, feel free to leave them in the comments below.

You can support Paper Beats World on Patreon.

You can also buy me a cup of coffee on Ko-fi.


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