Life is complex and writing a book is a task that can seem terribly overwhelming. And regardless of whether you’re writing fiction or nonfiction, you have to do some research. You may think that’s not true, but think about it… If you’re writing location and get one of the details wrong, you’re bound to hear about it from one of the locals. So, never write anything without doing some homework first. If you do, your book is bound to be better than the next guy’s, even if the plot of the two books is similar — homework shines through.
When you write a nonfiction book, the research is even more intense. You have to be absolutely certain that every detail you include in that book is backed up by not one, but at least two, reputable sources and that often takes some digging. Newspapers often get things wrong, and people don’t like it, but that’s the biz. They expect things to be wrong now and again because the creation process is so immediate. The book biz is a whole lot different.
Anyway, your research may consist of charts, magazine articles that you’ve both gleaned from the Web and that you’ve read in the library and taken notes on. You’ll have several books that you’ve read on the topic and penned notes from. You’ll have all kinds of Internet information and potential images to recommend to the editor for use in the book, and whoa… It’s pretty intimidating when you put it all together.
What I do is to make sure I take notes in one wire-bound notebook. Everything else I collect on the topic goes into one big binder. I use a tabbed index to create different topics I want to cover. So, maybe bio notes, education, history, etc. for a biography and as I’m gathering I add print-outs and documents to each category.
After I think I have enough stuff to write, I go through an read my notes, highlighting the details that I know I want to include in my finished work. It takes a few days to go back through everything, but it’s so worth it. You really do forget things you learn early on in the process, so this is rather like a reminder. I also tab any quotes that I might want to pull so that I can refer to them easily with some sticky tabs.
But everything is still scattered, though it’s in a notebook. So, then, I make a giant mindmap. I know what my chapters will be, so I allow them to radiate from the center and then, I fill in the details I want to use by going through the highlights I made in the last step.
I also create a spreadsheet that lists a blurb from whatever the highlight is about. I give each book a number, and then, when I refer to a page in a book, it’s like 3-287 for book 3, page 287. I don’t really do this for magazine articles because it would just take way too long. But because everything is pretty well organized, I can usually find stuff farily easily. You may also want to tab sections of your research that you know you’ll be referring to over and over again.
After I do all that (which for a book can take up to 6 months), I’m pretty organized, and from this road map, I can create my outline. That’s crucial! Never try to write a book or even an article or any kind of story without one. If you do, you’ll find yourself going down tangential roads that you never intended to travel. Instead, an outline gives you a clear path that you need to follow. Besides, if you do that, you don’t have to worry about what to write next, either. You simply follow the plan.
One you have the outline, it’s all downhill from there. You just write. Write, write, write.
I actually find that to be the tedious part. I like researching and organizing much better. How crazy is that? 🙂