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Tips to Write Non-Fiction

A Guide Like No Other!

by Bhashwati Pyne

1. Starting Out

Before you map out a writing plan and put pen to paper, it’s essential to crystallise the original idea that you wish to convey, as well as identify your target audience. This will help you find a sense of direction in your writing, and prepare for when you send out the book proposals to publishers.

Once you have your idea in place, consider how you might instill creative elements in the narrative. This doesn’t mean making up facts but rather, bringing to life vivid scenes built on history and fact.

  • Research - Researching the topic well is of utmost importance, as that will solidify the foundation of your idea, supplementing it with facts and relevant figures. Research can come in many shapes and sizes depending on the project.

Say you have set out to write a self-help book you might want to check out experts, such as psychologists and inspirational speakers, whose insight and evidence will add to what you already know.

If you’re writing a history or biography, you will find yourself gathering resources in libraries and archives, looking at primary and secondary sources on the matter. While writing about someone who’s still alive, you would have to procure the said person’s consent before going on with the research.

Writing a business book requires a lot of understanding of the market that you wish to write about, be it the one concerning stocks or cosmetics.

  • Creating the Outline - Since nonfiction is all about utility, structure aids the reader to reach the information they need. The structure should be coherent but at the same time also be gripping, so that readers want to read on and remember what they’ve read.

Typically, if your book is about a process, using a linear structure seems sensible. To make things more exciting for the readers, you can also choose to disrupt the linear flow and follow a list or essay structure.

  • Pick the Narrative Style - If you've worked with both US and UK English, you've probably noticed that some words are spelt differently, such as 'colour' vs. 'colour.' Depending on where your target audience is located, you should choose the variant that best suits them.

  • Reading - Find 10-20 of the best nonfiction books you've ever read and reread at least five of them. Pay attention to how they communicate and examine the materials used and the construction of the items. Ask yourself, which of these texts appeals to you the most? What would you change if you had the ability to do so? Is there a better way to tell the same plotline? How?

  • Consistency- Every day, set aside time to write. The key to quality is consistency. The more you write, the more your writing muscle will be exercised, and your writing will improve with time. There is just no way to reduce the amount of time spent behind the wheel. Make a two-hour writing block a part of your daily routine, or at the very least six days a week, and stick to it even if you don't feel like it. Professional writers practise every day, whether they feel like it or not.

They are compensated for the quality of their work, and they understand that unless they adhere to a rigorous practice regimen, their quality will deteriorate.

2. Storytelling

When recounted as a tale, almost anything becomes more understandable and memorable. Stories are easier to follow, they elicit interest in the issue and a desire to know what happens next, and they are more memorable than facts. That is why you should consider the kinds of stories you can tell in your nonfiction book and how to make the most of them.

  • Make it an emotional experience - An appeal to the reader's emotion, based on the premise that creative writing aspects can help make your nonfiction book interesting, can amp up the story's effect. Nonfiction authors can benefit from fiction writers' knowledge of how originality and emotional connection compel readers to keep reading.

  • Use lucid language - It's important to pay attention to the terms you use in your nonfiction writing. No one wants to stop every couple of pages and look up words. You don't want to make your book difficult to read by using sophisticated words when basic words would suffice.

  • Include dialogue - It goes without saying that you'd utilise it in creative nonfiction, but it's also a terrific method to break up long passages and give your work a human voice. You can write it as dialogue if you have a transcript or a record of a direct quote. If that's not the case, feel free to refer to what was stated as something you've been told rather than anything said. The distinction is slight, but integrating discussions in writing makes it more approachable and enjoyable to read.

  • Avoid excessive terminology - Keep your use of jargon and sophisticated terminology to a minimum. This does not mean you should eliminate every expert phrase from your vocabulary; rather, you should use them with caution. Keep in mind that you may be writing for a large audience, with many of them having no idea what you're talking about. Not only will they want your explanation when you initially introduce the phrase, but they will also be less likely to recall it if they have only recently encountered your writing.

  • Reduce the amount of information - Everything in your book should lead back to the fundamental issue you're trying to solve. It's easy to throw in a fun fact or anecdote that you believe your readers will enjoy, but you must strike a balance between the coherence of your work and the interesting fact or anecdote. As you reread your first draft, consider the purpose of the facts you've laid out, and eliminate those that don't help you answer your book's key question.

  • Make Use Of Reliable And Appropriate Sources- It may seem self-evident, but you must always be aware of your sources. However, you should investigate the source's history, background, and education. You could be a fantastic storyteller who uses those skills too, but the credibility of your work will be harmed if your sources aren't reliable. Nonfiction writing relies on your readers seeing you as a credible source, which you can't do without solid sources. So, while it may seem self-evident, spend some time digging through your source materials and gaining a historical perspective.

  • Write in a linear format - A personal essay or a social media post are not the same as a nonfiction book. Owing to the length, you'll need to use certain structural designs in your book to assist the reader keep track of what's going on. Remember to think of your nonfiction writing as a story, and to follow a story arc in your nonfiction writing. The easiest approach to do this is to prepare your work in the same manner that a fiction author would, by creating an outline or other plot map. Plan how each section or chapter will connect to the next, as well as a destination you'll be heading for. As a result, when you're done writing, your book will have a natural flow or direction.

3. Additional Tips

  • Revision- At the very least, rewrite each chapter once. Take a whole writing block, or longer if required, after you finish an entire chapter to do a top-to-bottom revision.

You've been editing your writing in portions, maybe a subchapter or two at a time, on a weekly basis up until now. However, you would be required to don the editor's hat for the next step.

  • As You Write, Get Feedback- If you're writing for a specific audience, make sure to include members from that audience early on in the writing process. Recruit a small group of advanced readers from your target demographic, ideally five individuals, and deliver them chapters as soon as you finish them so they may provide feedback. Expect no advice on how to fix the problem. You only need to know what works and what doesn't in order to return to the drawing board.

The reason I discourage you from focusing on suggestions, is that enlisting five people will result in five distinct suggestions for how to address things, many of which will be polar opposites, which isn't what you would want.

  • Take the time out to study grammar rules.- It's critical that you learn the fundamental rules of grammar, punctuation, and capitalization before you start writing. You don't need to be an expert, but you do need to know the fundamentals. Spend as little time as possible on this task. You are not required to enroll in classes or read full textbooks. Simply look up grammar, punctuation, and capitalization standards on the internet and visit reputable sources.

The majority of the regulations will be familiar to you, but some will be new to you.

The goal isn't for you to become a master, but rather for you to create the best document you can for your editor so that they can spend more time on substantial editing (e.g. ensuring that your manuscript fulfils its purpose and is suitable for your intended audience).

  • Take a notebook with you wherever you go- You'll be inundated with ideas throughout the day because you're writing a nonfiction book based on your own experiences and skills.

Many of these ideas will be fantastic, but they will pass quickly, so keep a tiny notebook with you at all times.

You could also take notes on your phone, but typing one key at a time on a little screen could be rather slow when compared to handwriting. Try not to jot down your thoughts to be saved on your computer afterwards, you won't be able to recall them half of the time.

4. Concluding Notes

  • Nonfiction has several subgenres, although the core categories remain the same.

You're not inventing anything new by publishing a travel guide, a cookbook, or your own memoirs. Your approach to the subject, on the other hand, will be distinctive.

Reading as many books as possible in your category and niche is always a good idea.

You'll get a decent understanding of how other authors tackled the subject, and then you can take a completely different approach. This is especially crucial if you're new to nonfiction – being fresh and original is the greatest way to stand out.

  • Writing non-fiction stories and scholarly works are not to be confused, they differ quite a bit from each other. In a textbook, only the most significant context is provided with knowledge and facts, whereas when you create a nonfiction book about a single topic or a group of linked topics, you're telling the story of that subject matter to your readers. Readers will connect to your book if you use these principles and think like a storyteller. If you wrap your facts in an intriguing story, the story will be more interesting and you'll amass more readers.

Notable Non- Fiction Writing Examples

  • Autobiography: First We Have Coffee by Margaret Jensen, Testament of Youth by Vera Brittain, The Diary of a Young Girl by Anne Frank, The Year of Magical Thinking by Joan Didion, I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings by Maya Angelou

  • Biography: A Passion for the Impossible by Miriam Huffman Rockness, Steve Jobs by Walter Isaacson, John Adams by David McCullough, Churchill: A Life by Martin Gilbert, Son of the Wilderness: The Life of John Muir by Linnie Marsh Wolfe

  • Memoir: All Over but the Shoutin’ by Rick Bragg, Cultivate by Lara Casey, A Moveable Feast by Ernest Hemingway, Out of Africa by Karen Blixen, Angela’s Ashes by Frank McCourt

  • How-to: Reconcilable Differences by Jim Talley, the …For Dummies guides, The Magical Power of Tidying Up by Marie Kondo, Bird by Bird by Anne Lamott, The 4-Hour Work Week by Tim Ferris

  • Motivational: The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People by Stephen Covey, The War of Art by Steven Pressfield, Think and Grow Rich by Napoleon Hill, The Seven Decisions by Andy Andrews, Intentional Living by John Maxwell

  • Children’s Books: Brown Girl Dreaming by Jacqueline Woodson, The Right Word: Roget and His Thesaurus by Jen Bryant, My Brother’s Book by Maurice Sendak


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