How to Write a Non-Fiction Book

Seven years ago, I had so much I wanted to say. I began writing recklessly and randomly, telling my story in various ways.

Five years ago, my agent said people responded to my self-care ideas. My writing found a focus. I made “self-care” the hub.

Then I made a mindmap. Every idea branched off.

I read, I highlighted, I compiled lists and notes. I hoarded quotes and stories. I dreamed, I gazed, I thought, I prayed.

I researched. Not only books but scientific articles too.

Then I gave each chapter a home, inside a file, inside a box. I sorted my quotes, articles, and ideas and tucked them inside those files within the box.

I wrote chapters. I met with critique partners — we sharpened iron. Each new edit was placed into the file. It was a messy hodge podge.

We ate and drank, laughed and cried, and spurred each other on. No one does anything of value alone.

I piled everything into one document and sent it to my agent, who got it sold. A team of editors believed in what I’d written.

The first edit is done. (I love editors!) As of now, I have a title, but I can’t tell anyone until the board approves.

I’m not sure how the book finally gets finished. I don’t know what the cover will look like or when I get to write my acknowledgements, back cover, etc. I have much to learn, but you can be sure I’ll write another post telling you what happens.

Have you written a book? What was your process?

27 Replies to “How to Write a Non-Fiction Book”

  1. Congratulations on your dream (book!) becoming a reality, Lucille. I’m sure it will be a blessing to many. I don’t write at all like you do. I’m an intuitive writer (AKA seat-of-the-pants writer), but because I write fiction, it’s okay. 🙂

  2. Congratulations, Lucille.

    I have to tell you that your post this morning means more to me that you could ever know. I was recently asked to submit a proposal for a non-fiction book and have been wrestling with whether it is something I should seriously consider. Yesterday, I googled “how to write a non-fiction book” but never found exactly what I was looking for. I downloaded a mindmapping tool, but wasn’t sure I understood how to use it. All afternoon I prayed and prayed and prayed that God would make it clear to me if I needed to move forward with this idea or devote my time and energy on my more photographic intensive projects. I went to bed last night begging God to show me…then I wake up this morning to your post in my reader, and I could almost hear God saying, “Is that clear enough?”

    Thank you…and congratulations, again.

    1. Wow. Patricia. Goosebumps all over! I don’t know if this is how others write non-fiction books. I’m sure a lot of people use Evernote or other writing tools that make them much more organized. I hope you will follow God’s apparent leading and write that book.

  3. Thanks Lucille. I really liked the mind map method. Going to put that in practice. In fact, I’m babysitting today and think I’ll let my grandkids create mind maps. Look forward to hearing about the rest of your writing journey.

    1. Dianne, what a cool idea. Then you can all make mindmaps together. Thanks for commenting.

  4. Lucille, your post on writing a non-fiction book is one of the best I’ve read! It makes the process so much more doable than staring at a blank sheet of paper. Congratulations on your success!!

    1. Awww, thank you Barbara. Like I said in a previous reply, I just did it my own way. I’m sure there are a lot more efficient ways 🙂

  5. HI Lucille- This is FANTASTIC. Thank you for these suggestions! For me, I start with a plan-of-action. It’s a word doc table that has 4 columns: Title, Content, Word Count, Status. I write the title of each chapter and a basic outline of what I want and then as I progress, I change the status from “in progress” to “in editing” to “final” as I finish each chapter.

    1. Erin, how cool. Where did you learn to do that? Was it your own idea? I know you put out books like nobody’s business.

  6. Lucille, this is a great guide to writing non-fiction. I did much the same thing with my very first book (on Christian vocation) – tons of notes and files. It takes so much work to make it all flow together, so I appreciate all the effort you have expended to get to publication. Congrats! And now you need to begin the next book, you know!

    1. Aack! The next book? Um, let’s get a title and cover on this baby. Thank you for commenting here Jan.

  7. I’m fairly certain I do not have the kind of brain that could “come up with my own system” for how to organize the writing of a non-fiction book. That’s why I so appreciate this post, which lays out the method you used with such clarity. I love it when I read a description like yours, Lucille, and can say, “Yes, I could actually DO that!” Thank you for making it so clear and concise. And I can’t wait to read your book!!

  8. I loved reading about your process and the way you filed everything. Congratulations! I’m so proud of you. I know writing a book is so not easy. You’ve done very well with the process.
    I organize into folders only I do it online in OneNote. I like the idea of folders for offline info that doesn’t fit online. I’m not sure how to handle all the info in the books I read though.
    I’m also more intuitive and tend to simply start writing and let the blog post, article or book write itself. At least that’s what I’m doing with “From Stuck to Success for Writers” The big challenge I have though is how to organize the book now. 🙂 I took all the chapters and copied them from my Word document into OneNote so I can move them around and see what chapter fits where. I have a general idea and once I get the chapters edited, I’ll figure that out. Perhaps mindmapping would help.
    OneNote is a huge gift for organizing all my writing ideas, snippets of writing, journaling, everything really, personal, writing and business! I also have ideas from research filed in OneNote as well.
    Again, thanks for sharing this. I found it very interesting and thought provoking. One thing I love is how writers in their creativity are so different in how they approach things. I love to learn from other writers. Thanks for sharing your journey.

    1. Sharon, I’ve heard of OneNote. I’ll go check it out.
      It’s fun to see how everyone works. Thanks for your sweet comments.

  9. Loved this pictorial post! Glad to know someone else has files of ideas she hopes one day will find a home! CONGRATULATIONS!

    1. Janey, thank you for your encouragement. I was hoping a pictorial post would get the message across in a more interesting way.

  10. You make this all look so effortless, Lucille! Of course, it’s anything but. I really appreciate you sharing your process and tools. There is definitely a lot I can use here, and I’m excited about your book. It sounds like the perfect gift for quite a few of my friends and loved ones (and me!). (:

    1. Rebecca,

      I’m glad you found this post helpful. Thank you for stopping by.

  11. Lucille, THANK YOU! You’ve given me quite a gift and you don’t even know it. 🙂 I feel sort of silly admitting this, but I had never heard of mind mapping. I’ve been intrigued with the concept however since I read your post. I’m pasting a link here to a video I found very valuable in case anyone reading your excellent post wants more help. Again, thank you, and congrats on the book deal!

    1. Going to check out that link now Shellie. I like mindmaps because the brain doesn’t work linearly. I mean, maybe it does for storyline, but not when coming up with ideas.

  12. Lucille, our approach to writing non-fiction could be a mirror image! I read, ponder, research, highlight, keep my ears open, pray, pray some more, ask lots of questions, and when that big pile has been digested, the words pour forth. Congratulations on your first book! I can’t wait to get my hands on it. Hugs!

  13. I like your map! It would have helped me to start with one of those. In my case, when I first started writing, I didn’t intend on writing a book. I just started writing and taking notes on thoughts that were important to me. After spewing out a 360 page catharsis, I sifted through the mass of redundancy and found about thirty or forty points that turned into sub-sections. Then, the subsections segregated themselves into chapters.

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