How to Write a Non-Fiction Book in 30 Days

Updated June 24, 2021 by Iulian Ionescu | Read Time min.
write non-fiction book

With the risk of sounding biased, I believe writing a non-fiction book is one of the most enjoyable and fulfilling activities you can do. I’ve long asserted that we are all creative one way or another; we all have a voice. Whether that voice wants to tell a fictional story or elaborate on a non-fiction idea, it doesn’t matter. A book is a piece of your mind transformed into words that later convey powerful emotions in the reader’s heart. It’s a great feeling.

When I started writing fiction, I never had any idea about how to write a non-fiction book. At the time of this writing, I have completed two manuscripts that I am actively marketing to agents. The initial brunt work on those books took me about 30 days, which is why I thought I’d share my process and how I was able to make it work. I sure hope that this article will help you and inspire you to start writing your non-fiction book.

“Writing nonfiction means I tell people’s stories for them, not because they’re special but because we all are.”Jo Deurbrouck

Author’s Weaponry For A Non-Fiction Book

Before you start putting words on paper, there are a few things you need to prepare to ensure success in this venture. In my experience, although you can definitely complete your book without mastering these, your journey will be much more strenuous.

1. Discipline and Habits

Writing a book for any period requires a superior level of self-discipline and diligence. When you’re talking about writing a non-fiction book in 30 days, this becomes paramount. In addition to pure discipline, you need to develop a solid writing habit that implies writing a similar number of words every day, with no excuses.

2. Time

Because writing a book is a serious commitment, you need to allocate proper time for your writing. If you live alone, this might be easier. However, if you live with other people, you need to make sure that they are supportive of your project and, together, you all understand and agree on the time and space when you will write and how long each writing stretch will be.

3. Language Skills

To complete a book that a publisher will want to publish, you need some basic language skills, including writing concise sentences, a good grasp of grammar and punctuation rules, and structure. To learn more about this particular subject, I’ve written another post called 10 writing skills you need to be successful. I recommend hopping there, too, for more details.

4. Writing Tools

Long gone are the days when you had a bulky typewriter in one room, and everyone in the house had to wear earmuffs when you worked. Today, you can write comfortably anywhere so long as you have the right tools. That’s why it’s a great idea to invest in a good text editor, such as Scrivener or Ulysses, and arm yourself with a few apps, such as:

5. Trusted circle

Another thing that had helped me tremendously when I was a beginner was a writer’s group. Being part of a writing group or having at least a few close people you trust well is of great help. When you write, you’ll often fall in love with your writing too much, and you’ll need someone else to point out that you’re straying away from the point of the book or going off on a tangent.

That’s why I believe it’s a great idea to have one or more people you can trust to provide you with honest and valuable feedback or simply to encourage you when you feel down and unmotivated.

“Writing nonfiction is more like sculpture, a matter of shaping the research into the finished thing.”Joan Didion

write non-fiction book manuscript

Non-Fiction Book Writing Process

Armed with the tools above, let’s jump right into the writing process.

The Great Idea

Every non-fiction book has one central idea. Usually, the idea is quite evident from the book’s title, and that’s great because the last thing you want is a reader wondering what it is about. But even before you name the book, you need that idea.

Brainstorm Ideas

The first step, thus, is coming up with the idea for your book. Often, you already have that idea in your head. It’s been circling like a shark in your mind, and it’s just screaming to get out. Other times, you have no precise topic in mind.

Regardless of your situation, a few days of brainstorming are always great as a starting point.

Use a large board or pad and write all the ideas around your non-fiction book on sticky notes. Then, keep moving them around and think about why a reader would want to read about that.

Do a few sessions until you are crystal clear about the primary idea of your book. Once you have that, write a one-line description and also a one-paragraph summary.

Research The Central Idea

Just because you have an idea doesn’t mean that it’s a marketable idea. Also, even if it is a commercially sound topic, the market might already be saturated with it, and a new book might not be able to push through. Whatever the truth is, you need to know.

With that idea in mind, start researching. Ask yourself:

  • What other books on the subject are there?
  • Who wrote them?
  • Are they popular?
  • Are there lots of articles in magazines and online about that idea?

Keep collecting these pieces of information, and don’t get turned off if you discover that your idea is not unique (few are). That fact alone shouldn’t deter you from writing a book with your perspective and personal flair. Instead, it should give you some thoughts about what the readers might compare your book to when they decide to purchase and which angles haven’t yet been explored enough.

You can always add new layers to old ideas, and that’s how you make the book yours. That means that nobody else can write that particular book except you.

Supporting Documentation

During your research, collect everything you can on the subject. Save articles, buy magazines, invest in books written by others on the same issue. Read as much as you can so you know everything that is to know about it.

In addition, collect images and quotes from the web that relate to the subject of your non-fiction book, and plaster them on a board in plain view. The more of your senses you excite around that topic, the better you’ll focus on it.

Also, if your book requires scientific research, prepare your citations and keep them in a safe place, organized for easy access.

All this information will be helpful to the actual output of your book, and it will rein you in that book-writing mindset. For the next 30 days, you’ll live and breathe this book. So everything around you should be conducive and motivating toward writing it.

Who’s Your Non-Fiction Book Reader?

Last but not least, prepare a profile of your ideal reader. Is it primarily male, female, or both? Are they older or younger? Where do they live? What do they care about?

The more you build this profile, the better you’ll be able to connect your writing with them. Never forget that your non-fiction book is meant to be read, so the more you know about the reader, the better you’ll take them on the right journey and keep them on it through the end.

Think about what kinds of problems your readers are facing and how will your book provide them with a solution? Whatever it is, spend this time defining it, and you’ll be happy that you did once you start writing.

“Ironically, in today’s marketplace successful nonfiction has to be unbelievable, while successful fiction must be believable.”Jerry B. Jenkins

writing non-fiction book research

Organization

Once you have the central idea of your non-fiction book established and you’ve collected enough data and made all the research necessary, it’s time to get organized.

If you have to be super detailed with any part of your writing process, it’s the organization part. That alone can make or break your writing process, so you want to be as diligent as possible to ensure that your writing will be as smooth as possible.

Outline Ideas

With a primary idea in mind, you can begin to deconstruct it into several subparts or concepts. Then, you can take each sub-idea, and you can think of multiple ways to look at it. Here’s an example of a question-driven framework you can use to split your main idea into sub-ideas that can drive your narrative in different directions:

  • Main idea: procrastination
  • WHAT IS procrastination?
  • HOW do people procrastinate?
  • WHY do people procrastinate?
  • HISTORY of procrastination
  • EFFECTS of procrastination
  • SYMPTOMS of procrastination
  • HOW TO STOP procrastinating?
  • MY EXPERIENCE with procrastination
  • WHAT OTHERS say about procrastination?
  • FAMOUS procrastinators

As you can see, this gives you many angles to talk about the same thing. First, you have to decide if your non-fiction book will be a generic high-level book that will tackle all of those sub-ideas in independent sections or if it will focus on one or two and go deep into those.

Depending on the answer, structure these sub-ideas in a logical order. Think about the journey you want to take the reader on. Do you want to start with your own story and take the reader on an emotional ride? Or maybe you want to start with history and entertain the reader with interesting facts?

Start planning the structure and keep tweaking it until it looks good enough (but don’t overanalyze it to death because once you start writing, you might still change it.)

Refine The Outline and Add Details

With the generic outline established, you must now refine those ideas further. It’s also a good time to group those topics and see which ones can be sub-sets of the others because they logically connect. Here’s how I did it using the example above:

  • What is Procrastination?
    • Define procrastination
    • History of Procrastination
  • Why do people procrastinate?
    • Symptoms of procrastination
    • Effects of procrastination
  • Procrastination around the world
    • Famous Procrastinators
    • What do other people say about procrastination?
  • My Procrastination Story
  • How To Stop Procrastinating?
    • Mindset Changes
    • Tools To Help Curb Procrastination

Now, the structure starts to make sense. As you read through these, you get a clear understanding of the ride your reader will experience.

At this point, it’s a great idea to write a little paragraph about each of the sections. It’s almost like a more detailed description of what each point will do for the narrative. That allows you to get a lot more intimate with the structure and identify any missing points early.

If you do this right, you’ll wind up with a summary of your entire book. Don’t be afraid to make it as detailed as you can, but don’t go overboard. Keep it high-level.

Bullet-point Your Chapters

Once you are very intimate with the structure, you can identify parts, chapters, and sub-chapters. That’s merely taking the finalized outline above and grouping it even more.

There are many ways in which you can do this. For example, Part 1 and Part 2, where Part 1 is more on the theory behind your idea, while Part 2 is the more practical ways you provide a solution to the problem.

At this point, you must use your judgment to organize the book in a complete outline with part numbers, chapter names and numbers, and any subchapters.

Don’t worry; this will also shift and change. As you write, new ideas will spawn, and you’ll add them as chapters or sub-chapters. That’s okay. The idea is to get this first structure down because that will be the basis of your writing plan.

If you have these “sections” well defined, you’ll find it easier to structure your writing time to work on a section at a time.

“The challenge of nonfiction is to marry art and truth.”Phyllis Rose

writer writing pen notebook

Create a Writing Plan

At this point, you are well on the way toward your non-fiction book. The planning phase was an essential step, and it’s now well behind you! Next, to the writing… plan.

The writing plan starts with a few questions:

1) Approximately how long will your non-fiction book be?

The proper answer to this is: as long as it needs to be. Yes, that sounds a bit tongue in cheek because you won’t know the answer until you’ve finished writing.

But, to get this started, you have to begin with some number in mind. As a general guideline, the average length of a non-fiction book is 50,000 words. However, some can go up to 75,000 or even 100,000 words. I’d say that 50k words is a good starting number; start with that and see where it goes from there.

For a more informed idea, you can research other similar books and note the average length of those works. Don’t get too hung up on it, though. Have a number in mind and be open-minded enough to accept that it will probably change as you power through with your writing.

2) How many words must you write per day?

Next, divide the planned number of words by 30 (days), and you’ll get the minimum number of words you must write per day.

I always like to add about 10% to top it off and then round it up to the nearest 100. In this way, you’ll know for sure that you are a bit ahead all the time. So, for 50,000 words, you’d get 1,666 words per day. If you add 10% (multiply by 1.1) and round up, you get 1,800 words per day.

3) For how long you will write each day?

Since you know how many words you want to write per day, you must also determine how much time you will spend writing each day.

Generally speaking, people type about 40 words per minute, on average. You can test your speed using some of the online tools out there (like this one). But, using 40 as a guideline, you can make a rough calculation like this:

50,000 words / 30 = 1,800 words per day (with 10% added and rounded up)

1,900 words divided by 40 words per minute = 50 minutes (approximately)

So, you need to write for about 50 minutes per day to output 1800 words that will ensure that you complete the 50k words manuscript in thirty days. In fact, it’s 26 days because of the rounding, but it’s always good to have a little buffer to account for days when things don’t go as planned.

4) When will you write?

Because you are looking to create a writing habit, you must add all the future writing sessions to your calendar. That means that you need to look at your calendar and identify the best times of the day when you can write.

For instance, you might write thirty minutes first thing in the morning and thirty minutes in the evening before bed. On the weekends, you might write for two hours after lunch.

You must be crystal clear about your writing times and length. Fill the entire 30 days on your calendar and decide when each session will occur, how many of them there will be throughout the day, and how long each session is. That’s the only way to establish a writing routine that will drive you to finish your non-fiction book in 30 days.

Regardless of what works for you, make sure that’s what you put in your calendar. For the next 30 days, that will be your writing bible!

“I still believe nonfiction is the most important literature to come out of the second half of the 20th century.”Tom Wolfe

writing space coffee

Writing Your Non-Fiction Book

With all the organization stuff out of the way, it’s time to write. Whatever you did so far doesn’t count against your 30 days. The 30-day clock begins now with the first word of your non-fiction book.

Shitty First Draft

There’s one thing to keep in mind, and I want you to repeat this a thousand times in the mirror and also write it down on post-it notes and plaster them all around the house:

Your first draft will not be good.

Repeat that. I know that it’s a tough pill to swallow because you’d want your book to be great in the end. It definitely can be, just not the first draft.

The purpose of the first draft is to get all your ideas, thoughts, suggestions, anecdotes, and everything else in between out of your head and onto the paper. Even with the structure you’ve created, there will be some disjointed ideas; some things will repeat, while others won’t make any sense.

Don’t worry. You’ll fix that later. At this time, focus on putting words on paper. Don’t even worry about grammatical mistakes or typos. They’ll simply slow you down.

I highly recommend removing the live spell check to avoid those annoying red squiggly lines, which are always frustrating and distracting. Write and don’t waste time reading it. Not yet.

Let the outline drive your paragraphs. Expand each idea as you go along, and don’t worry about the final result or if all ideas connect properly. By default, they won’t, and that’s perfectly okay.

Mind Your Word Count

Because this first step aims to get those words on paper as quickly as possible, you must keep track of your word count. Have a simple Excel or Google Sheet or, heck, write it down on a piece of paper. Do your best not to miss your word count on any day. If you can’t meet the full count because your day went haywire, at least write a few words.

Over the weekend, or during any other free time, push yourself to top off your word count with a few more words. Always keep an eye on the count—it will act as a powerful motivator.

Also, if you find yourself in a great flow where words just pour out of your fingers, go with it. Write for longer. If your inspiration is high, don’t stop just because your time is up. Ride with it and keep the momentum until it goes away. There won’t be many moments like that so, when they happen, cherish them.

As far as tracking goes, I’ve created a basic word count tracker where you can enter the main parameters of your book and then enter the total word count after each writing session. The sheet will show you where you are and if you are ahead or behind, which is essential to know. Download it below.

Word-Count-Tracker-V1

Word Count Tracker

Dealing With Struggles

Theoretically speaking, the process I described above should be enough to get you to complete your non-fiction book in 30 days. The only things I left out are your feelings and emotions during the process. And, oh boy, do they matter.

As you chug through the word count, there will be good days, and there will be bad days. On good days, you might go over your word count, and sentences will seem to fly off your fingers with the utmost ease.

Other days, things won’t be so good. You’ll feel stuck and unable to write a single word. So, what do you do?

Here are a few techniques to use during your writing sessions to shield yourself from such situations:

  1. Make sure your writing environment is always ideal (as much as possible). Think: light, temperature, sounds.
  2. Create a routine by writing at the same time of day.
  3. If it helps, even create a writing attire that you wear when you write.
  4. When your head feels empty as you hit a section, go back to the outline. Take the outline sentence and try to expand that idea into three sentences. Then take those three sentences and split them further. The more you develop, the more you’ll get the creative juices flowing. It’s usually that initial push that gets you started.
  5. If you still feel stuck, do a little bit of research on that particular section; read up a few things on it to get yourself starting up.
  6. As a last resort, if you cannot output any word down in your book, write something else. Write a story, describe a dream, or write a page for your memoir. Whatever it is, don’t let the time pass without some words on paper.

If you follow these techniques day after day, you’ll be able to slowly pad the word count and grow it toward the ultimate goal. Always keep your eye on that word count, though. Your first draft is the most critical piece of your process. Without that first draft, there is no book.

So, keep writing, and don’t stop until your word count reads 50,000 (or more).

“Every successful piece of nonfiction should leave the reader with one provocative thought that he or she didn’t have before. Not two thoughts, or five – just one. So decide what single point you want to leave in the reader’s mind.”William Zinsser

write type non-fiction book

Revising and Editing Beyond The 30-Days

Well, here we are. Thirty days have passed, and by now, I hope you have a hefty first draft. We’ll stop calling it shitty now. Instead, you’ll focus on the fact that you’ve accomplished writing a complete non-fiction book in 30 days.

Now what? Let’s look at what you can do beyond those magical 30 days.

Less-shitty Second Draft

After you finished your first draft, set it aside for a few days. For a full effect, I even recommend setting it aside for one or two weeks. You want to put some distance between you and the manuscript to cleanse your mind’s palate. During this time, your brain will still think about it subconsciously. All those ideas that you poured on paper will crystallize, connect, and better define.

After enough time has passed, take one ride through the manuscript and do the first set of self-edits. Prepare to feel a little down because it won’t sound as good as you were expecting it.

It’s okay; remember, this is your first draft. Now, you’ll make it better.

Read it like a reader would and do high-level fixes. Take stuff out that doesn’t belong; remove repeated ideas—tidy things up a bit.

Fire up the spell check and kill all those typos and grammar issues. Please don’t go too crazy; clean it up as well as you can in this second round.

After you finished, leave your manuscript to the side for another one or two weeks. During this time, continue to read and research. Your writing probably gave you new ideas, and further questions appeared.

Find more answers and keep digging into the subject. It’s your way of becoming a master of it, which is what you should be by the time you’re ready to publish your non-fiction book.

I highly recommend at this stage to do a physical printout of your manuscript and read it once more, even out loud if you can. It will give you a different perspective than reading it on the computer monitor.

With every read, keep fixing, polishing, and refining.

Perfect Your Manuscript

You should never market your manuscript to a potential agent or publisher or consider self-publishing before you are sure that it’s in the best shape possible.

How to accomplish that is beyond the scope of this article, but know that the work is far from complete. Your manuscript will need more polishing, tightening, structuring, and formatting.

You’ll probably need to hire a professional editor to ensure consistency of style and soundness of structure. Then, maybe even a proofreader to catch every last typo.

Only after that, you’re free to look for an agent and a publisher or consider self-publishing.

Whatever you choose, know that the most challenging part is not ahead of you. The hardest part is the one you’ve just completed. Writing is the hardest part of writing. Everything else that comes after is the business of publishing, marketing, and selling.

Before worrying about that, write the manuscript first. Using the framework and process presented in this article, you can produce that complete manuscript in 30 days, putting you way ahead of the pack.

“Write a nonfiction book, and be prepared for the legion of readers who are going to doubt your fact. But write a novel, and get ready for the world to assume every word is true.”Barbara Kingsolver

book happy victory

Go And Write Your Non-Fiction Book

Writing a non-fiction book is a daunting yet highly satisfying experience. It seems scary not only because of the amount of work involved but also because it triggers the impostor syndrome and challenges your self-confidence.

But, from a technical perspective, it’s doable, as you can see. From a mental standpoint, you need to learn how to push yourself and put in the work. Leave the fear aside; it’ll always be there, so it’s best to work despite it.

Forget those thoughts about what everyone else will think of you once they read your book. This is not the time for it. Right now, your job is to put your best words on paper as fast as you can.

Don’t allow fear and anxiety to stand in the way of your first manuscript draft. Sit down and write that book!

Other Resources On Writing a Non-Fiction Book

Now, before you go, I have…

3 Questions For You

  1. Did you ever have a great idea for a book, but couldn’t figure out what to do with it?
  2. What is the one thing that scares you the most when it comes to writing a non-fiction book?
  3. What are some of your all-time favorite non-fiction books?

Please share your answers in the comments below. Sharing knowledge helps us all improve and get better!

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