You Have A Nonfiction Book Idea. How to Begin Writing It?

Many people have great ideas. Many of those great ideas could be made into a book.


Many people don’t feel comfortable just sitting down and beginning to write that book.

Are you such a person? Maybe?

Admit it, you have a book idea.

You’re smart, you’re capable. You could have endless conversations about your book.

Bottom line: You know enough about it. But how to take what you know and make a book out of it?

How can you know where to start? Maybe you don’t /feel like you know everything about your book. Possibly, there are some some hazy areas where your expertise runs thin.

What to do? Do you need to learn more… and then, once you learn enough, you will be able to start writing?

Myth: Writers can only begin writing once they have complete knowledge of their book.

Yep, that’s a myth. It’s untrue.

OK, so you want to write, but you don’t know where to start.

The good news is that there are lots of excellent ways to get started.

I will share several options for things to try.

Try this:

Pretend you are having a conversation with someone.

Ask yourself questions about your book.

As you do this, feel free to recall actual questions people have asked you about your book.

Or even bring a recorder with you and have conversations with people expressly for this purpose. Encourage them to engage you with questions, to inundate you with curiosity about your book. Feel free to respond to them with the express understanding that the purpose here is not to answer their questions but to find more and more questions. Your answering, then, is really a way of adding more to the pot for them to get curious about.

Questions help you understand what you need to write.

Come back later and answer the questions.

Organize them if you want.

Or just answer them spontaneously and watch the pages accrue.

Keep the question more or less as the section title for each bit.

Before you know it, you will see progress — a stack of pages, a long word document — that looks a lot more like a book than it had previously. Even if it’s messy… it’s getting there.

Some questions will be bigger than others. Let those big questions take shape more like chapter headings. The smaller questions can find a safe and secure nest inside some of those larger chapter headings.

It will naturally follow that the more you do this, you will notice some areas which could be more evenly fleshed out. Maybe you see a spot for some new questions that weren’t asked.

When you do this exercise with several different people, you are likely to get a more holistic picture start to take shape. Different people encourage the book in different ways and different directions. Their questions invite the content to fill according to what they are interested in and how they think as people. But since it’s your book, when a question doesn’t feel central to what you want to write about, you don’t have to go there.

No book has to be all things for all people.

However, if multiple people ask the same question, that might mean it could pay to spend some extra time honing those sections and potentially developing them at a higher resolution than others.

Your book is addressing the concerns of different readers, which can help an author feel confident, assured that there is a home for their book.

Ultimately that’s the goal, right? For your book to be a service for other readers.

One key thing to keep in mind with this approach is that it remains your book — the questions are only there to help you. The eventual book doesn’t have to answer every question or be everything that each person you talked to might have expected. The tendency is for people to head in a single direction, to follow a single thread.

Only you can see the big picture of the book. The forest for the trees. The important points that your inner knowing wants to bring forward.

Try this:

Write anyway even if you don’t know everything.

Write what you do know and leave the blank spots.

Find answers to the blank spots through research, interviews, introspection, or other means.

Try this:

Start collecting material and organizing it. Color code it according to topics. Keep lists, let the chaos group itself along whatever intuitive modality feels fun for you.

The book as a whole has a general feeling.

Feel your way through the textures of that feeling. Discover different possible sections for stuff and organize as you go. Use scraps of paper and photos and images and quotes and just dive in.

You’re in a gathering phase. The main objective here is to group it all and do the work of making it easier for yourself later. You don’t actually have any hard work to do, just gather material. Write only what feels interesting, what is easy. Little things here and there. Rather than trying to be proper and correct and follow a straight line, write the easiest bits. Survey the material and play.

Try this:

Take a linear approach. You don’t know everything, but you know enough to start.

Hold the discipline of starting at any point in the book and continuing. You know you don’t have to get everything perfect in this draft. It’s easy to reorder material. You just need to write what you know. You’ll figure it out as you go. Anything else would be playing games.

Writing this way is about discipline, so you need accountability buddies, deadlines, and organization. You need help looking out for your best interest.

Write without polishing it, though. Polishing is a trap! Don’t let its siren song seduce you, or else you’ll end up stuck in shallow waters forever.

Finish the draft and then go back through and make improvements.


There you have it. Several options for how to get started. Try any of them, try all of them. Don’t let anything stand in your way.

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