Writing Done Right
Tips for Planning Non-fiction
Summary: Here are my five tips for finishing a non-fiction draft.

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Writing non-fiction is different from writing fiction in that there is more planning involved. Here we present five tips I use when planning and writing my non-fiction drafts.

There is plotting and pantsing. Both methods can be employed in fiction or in non-fiction, but when we are looking specifically at non-fiction, a little more planning is needed. I use a series of outlines to get my drafts prepared, yes, even you pantsers out there will need to learn a few plotting tips, so here we go!

Create a Topical Outline

The first step to getting your book organized is your basic outline. The way I work on my outline and develop the table of contents is to write an essay. This first essay is a basic summary of the book. I write this essay on paper, though you probably can do it on a computer if you are one who will want to edit it. I choose not to edit this essay, but instead, use the initial inspiration of the heart and extract the contents into an outline on the computer. This is where I will make some logical edits to refine the outline as a bullet point list which becomes the table of contents.

Collect and Organize References

While working on the outline, make note of the things that need direct references. Also note questions that need answering so you can go on a fact finding tour. With the outline completed, questions made, and references required, start doing some research online to find the answers you need. In this step, always confirm the primary resource. In I AM not amused, I spent two years looking for one reference that most of the Christian community kept on quoting between themselves. Once I found a copy of the smoking-gun, forty-year old magazine, I found that very page was nothing more than a guitar ad! I obviously did not rehash the same quote, and that is the importance of finding the original resource. One other brief tip for doing your research: when I am working on focused topics like this, I hide behind a VPN, so I am not bombarded with ads for that scope for the next year while I work on the draft!

Write an Essay on Each Chapter

Once my outline and references are completed, it is time to start writing the first draft. Again, I use essays to outline the first pass inspiration of my thoughts. My notebook will have a page reserved for each chapter. The first part of that page is a quick, rough essay that will help organize my thoughts. After the essay is completed, I tease out an outline of the chapter, make a note of the relevant references, and give myself a few other thoughts on the page. This will be my guide as I start working on the draft of each chapter. Usually I complete all the chapter essays and outlines before I start writing, so I do not break my writing workflow.

Write the Chapter Quickly

Once all the essays are written, I focus on completing the draft as quickly as I can. I do not take the time to insert all the quotes and references at this stage in the writing, but I leave myself enough notes to insert the references later. This way I do not break the writing flow for a task that is more research orientated and less inspiration oriented. I can always go back later and add the references in, especially if I noted the references I had in mind when I was writing. This will result in a quick, flowing, and inspirational first draft, which will be patched up later.

Insert References Shortly After

Once the initial draft is completed, take some time shortly after to insert the references. Read through the draft and add all the direct quotes double checking they are correct. Also, insert the footnotes and end notes as needed to mark all the references you need. This is also a good time to do a first pass grammar and organization check to make sure everything reads as you like it. I typically do this step before starting in on the next chapter so I do not forget which references go where in the process. At the end of this step, you should have a good working first draft of the chapter, complete with notes, references, and having done a first pass grammar and organization check.