Wednesday, April 24, 2019

Organizing for Nonfiction Projects

In fiction, some authors self-identify as detailed outliners (of plot and characters) or pantsers. The latter wing it, at least as they start a book, and maybe all the way through.

I wrote nonfiction for years. I don’t see how it’s possible to write a piece on a period in history or a new manufacturing method without getting organized first. 

Maybe it’s me, but ideas don’t always come in logical order. 

Every project starts with a blank page. My suggestion would be to dash off a few paragraphs or pages to describe your idea – anything to get your first thoughts on paper. Then take some time and organize your thoughts. Here are some things to ask yourself.
  • Who do I want to read what I’m about to write?
  • Is everything I need to know to write this article or book in my head, or do I need to do some more research?
  • If I need to learn more, is the information available by reading, or do I need to talk to some people?
  • What are the most important things (as of now) that I want to say?
  • Does it matter when I finish?
These are just a few starter questions. Believe it or not, the first is the most important. Who you write to (an audience that knows a lot about the topic or a community newspaper) makes all the difference in how you present the article or book. 

Everything from vocabulary to sentence length is determined by your reader base. You don’t have to know how it will vary immediately, but keep the audience in mind. 

Once you’ve thought about these basic questions, make a list of the order in which you want to present information. It won’t be in the exact order at first. 

As you start to write, you can add to the list or move things around. Let’s say your audience is twenty-somethings who grew up using GPS systems. It could be that after you write a few paragraphs about how to  use a map you realize you need to explain what one is, and how there were initially none when pioneers crossed the United States. It’s all about perspective. 

Speaking of maps…The best reason to have a list or more detailed outline is that you’ll have a sense of when to stop writing. Your points should be building to an end, perhaps an important conclusion. Without some advance thinking, how will you know when you get there? 
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