Your Guide to Writing a Nonfiction Book This NaNoWriMo

Your Guide to Writing a Nonfiction Book This NaNoWriMo

by Olga Bialasik

With November right around the corner, writers all around the world are preparing for NaNoWriMo—National Novel Writing Month. At The Book Shelf, we like to swap the “Novel” for “Nonfiction”. Do you have an idea for a nonfiction book? Have you been looking for an excuse to start writing it? This November might be the time to do it!

The pros of NaNoWriMo

  1. Fixed deadline: Having a set 30 days to accomplish your goal can be more motivating than having no specific target to work towards.
  2. Quick progress: Writing a book can be a time-consuming commitment, sometimes lasting months or even years. This event encourages a more intensive and productive project timeline.
  3. Supportive community: NaNoWriMo opens a door to a whole community of writers on their website and across social media, so you can share your writing tips and ideas and uplift each other.
  4. Accountability: Other writers can help you stay on top of your schedule and cheer you on.
  5. Trial run: This is a fun way of testing the waters to figure out whether you actually enjoy writing books and how you work best; is a shorter, faster timeline better for reaching your word count or do you need to plan a longer period of writing?

Assessing your goals

The first thing you need to determine is why you want to write a nonfiction book, so you can decide what you will write and how.

  1. Bestseller: Writing a bestselling book can be wonderful for your career, so there’s no shame in admitting this is your goal! You’ll need a good strategy to gain readers—publishing is a business, so researching and marketing is integral.
  2. Storyteller: If you’ve had an extraordinary life or some incredible experiences, you might want to share them with the world through a memoir; this could be a pensive book or you might take a more comedic approach.
  3. Helper: Perhaps you want to help people and better the world. From self-help and wellbeing to psychology and philosophy, you need to make sure that your book has a specific target audience whose problems you understand, so you know how to help.
  4. Authority-builder: For entrepreneurs and business owners, a book establishes your experise in your subject area, boosts your credibility, and opens more doors. Make sure it’s also easy to read for people with limited experience in your industry.
  5. Legacy: Wouldn’t it be amazing to read your ancestors’ life story? If that’s an experience you want your children and future generations to have, write a memoir for those you love that’s more personal and less concerned with sales.

Getting started

Before you begin, decide how much time you can set aside to write. A regular schedule will help you track your progress and make writing a habit. Can you stay off Netflix for a month and use those hours to binge-write instead of binge-watch? Maybe you need to commit to fewer social engagements than you’re used to? Dedicate however much time you can, whether it’s half an hour every day or three hours a week, and stick to it.

Then, open up a document and start writing! Most people choose Microsoft Word, as it’s much easier to edit, but Google Docs works as well. Scrivener and similar software make the editing stage more difficult, especially if you hire an editor, so opt out of those.

Your Guide to Writing a Nonfiction Book This NaNoWriMo 2

Bending the rules

NaNoWriMo sets a default goal of writing a 50,000-word novel in a month. But everyone has different circumstances and every author a different process. Some prefer to plan their book in detail before sitting down to write, others write straight away and change content as they go. Some prefer to work on their project for months at a time, while others want to get it done as quickly as they can.

While it’s entirely possible to finish a book in 30 days, you don’t have to put pressure on yourself. Working a full-time job and looking after your family will leave you with less time to write than someone with no other commitments. It’s important to see this as an exciting challenge and a push to finally start that book you’ve been thinking about, rather than a burden that will leave you unhappy and overwhelmed. Aim to write half your book instead, for example—this is still a great start!

In a similar vein, not all books are 50,000 words long. If you plan on self-publishing your nonfiction book, a better goal is around 30,000 words. Less spare time means people are more likely to reach for a shorter read, and a lower word count ensures that your book is well-structured, non-repetitive, and concise.

Staying motivated

A whole month of writing can be intense, particularly if you don’t write often, so it’s important to keep the challenge reasonable. If your circumstances change or you decide your goal is too difficult to achieve, adjust accordingly to prevent burnout.

The best way to motivate yourself throughout the month is by reminding yourself of the reasons you’re writing a book. Keep the why that you discovered earlier in mind, or write it down on a Post-It note to keep by your side as you type away.

Look at your bookshelf and reread your favourite passages for inspiration, listen to music to help you focus (here‘s a playlist if you don’t have one), and think of how satisfied you’ll feel when you’re done.

Finishing up: from draft to final product

When you’ve finished writing your book, or a part of it, take a well-deserved break and celebrate! There’s still a way to go before publication, but you need time away to rest so you can come back to your book with a clear head.

The next steps: editing, design, and proofreading, all of which we can help you with. If you’re not sure what services you might need or if you’d like a critique first, get in touch. Read our guide to self-publishing a nonfiction book to decide whether you should DIY or hire professionals.

And if you’re still unsure how to organise your time, we’ve got a free e-book to help you! Subscribe to our newsletter here to get a download link.

Good luck with your NaNoWriMo experience. We’ll be doing Instagram lives about it throughout November, so stay tuned!