Some people are lifelong learners and love the process of going from not knowing anything in a subject area to becoming proficient, like learning to write a nonfiction book. That makes sense. We all want to be the best we can be. But along the way, we have to learn a lot of little things that can either make us the best at what we do or, if we choose not to learn them, will keep us in the pack of average Joes.
But here’s the deal with me: I only want to know as much as I need to know to use a tool for my intended purpose. In fact, I detest the learning curve. I generally try to find every possible way around it, so I can get on to the using stage. Learning frustrates me; knowing satisfies me. But that’s, unfortunately, not the way the world works. So to know something, I must go through the pain of learning. And I have to follow a process, but I can’t even do that if I haven’t made the decision to do something new and follow through.
A journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step.
Make a Decision
You know what the hardest part about learning to write a nonfiction book is? It’s making the decision to do it. You’ve probably had the idea for your book for some time. I bet it’s been percolating in your head, begging to come out. At times, it probably drives you crazy. But books don’t write themselves, so the only way yours is going to get written is if you make the decision to do it. It’s your story. Only you can write it.
Whenever I travel, it seems I’m seated next to a chatty type, and it’s always fun to get acquainted. On one flight, I sat next to Don, and he and I discussed the usual getting-to-know-you topics. When he asked me what I do for work, I explained that I help people who aren’t writers become authors of high-impact nonfiction books.
“Really?” Don replied. “I’ve always wanted to write a book.”
“Then why don’t you?” I asked.
“I’ve never really looked into it,” he said.
Don’s answer spoke volumes. He’d flirted with the idea of writing a book but had never taken it further than just that—the idea of writing a book. People tend to glamorize the writer’s life; they don’t realize that it’s a lot of hard work, and it takes a lot of time. Don never made the decision to write his book, so it’s unlikely that he ever will.
Create a Plan
If you don’t know how to write a nonfiction book, how could you know how to get started?
Some people just sit down and start writing. But they soon discover that all the ideas that have been rattling around in their head have no form, no shape. What comes out is like a spaghetti mess—a bunch of unconnected threads. They have a message, but they don’t know how to get it down on paper. The problem with the “write-first” approach is that it’s like trying to build a house without any plans. You have no blueprint to follow, no foundation poured; and you don’t know what the house will look like when it’s finished.
I don’t know a lot about building, but I do know that you don’t put up the walls first. The walls have to be attached to something solid. So before you build anything, you pour the foundation. But even before that, you need a comprehensive plan—a blueprint that shows where each room will be and what features it will have. Before you pull out your hammer, you have to have a plan.
The same is true for your book. If you want to save time, energy, money, and frustration, you begin with the end in mind. You take the concept for your book and turn it into a concrete plan.
To do that, we start with the foundation. You may know the topic of your book, but do you know what you want your book to accomplish? If the book doesn’t have a purpose, why write it?