On the Nonfiction Book Writing Process #1

Writer Mama in-processI’m not ready to share what my next book is about, however, I am ready to talk about the nonfiction book writing process.

Has anyone seen the magazine ad for American Express featuring Tina Fey? Her daughter Alice is sitting in the desk chair and she is under the desk in a pile of papers? That was pretty much me last book.

Because it was my first book, I tried every creative approach I could think of. I mean I tried EVERYTHING.

But what was cool for me when I saw this ad was to recognize the storyboard bulletin board in the background.

The storyboard technique was instrumental for me in trying to devise the form or shape that Writer Mama would take.

To read it, I bet you would never guess the pains I went through to make sure that everything was in there and in an order that made sense.

I had to prioritize and condense an enormous amount of information and—what I obsessed about most—make it enjoyable to read.

I am trained as a fiction writer, after all.

So, I used the storyboard constantly. I bet I rearranged those darn post-it notes about a thousand times.

And then of course, my editors would suggest rearranging chapter, sections and sidebars again. And I would. Right up until the very final draft.

OMG, don’t even ask me how many drafts I did. I’m going to guess about a thousand, especially on the front of the book.

The second half went much faster once we’d settled on a definitive format for the book.

I hope, if you are working on a nonfiction book this winter, that you will find my posts on process encouraging…especially when you are ready to throw the whole darn mss. out the window.

Just remember that all of your hard work, in the end, is supposed to be indiscernible to the reader. So when someone emails me and says, “I read your book in two days…” I just smile. And I know that all my hard work—and storyboarding—were worth it.

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5 Responses to “On the Nonfiction Book Writing Process #1”


  1. 1 Eileen December 17, 2007 at 12:28 pm

    Eye-catching photo of manuscripts. Also Neat American Express ad – You piqued my interest about the storyboarding and how you used it with book. I’m Googling on storyboarding – need to refresh my memory about how to do it! Thanks, EE

  2. 2 Marjorie December 17, 2007 at 3:32 pm

    Hi! I love that ad as well. I’m a huge fan of Tina Fey and her hilarious show 30 Rock. The ad (and the companion television commercial) perfectly sums up an ordinary day for me.

    I like the storyboard idea. I’ve been tinkering with the possibility of using it for a screenplay that I’m working on and will definitely use it to put some semblance of order on a nonfiction project that’s been consuming me for the past year.

    Thanks for a great post!

    Cheers,
    Marjorie

  3. 3 Rebecca Laffar-Smith December 17, 2007 at 5:22 pm

    WOW! I had a storyboard exactly like that too!!! These days I’ve gone digital and have a digital version of the plot board thanks to “Storylines” software but the old corkboard with shreds of paper all pinned in rows brings back memories. I have a photograph of mine in an old emagazine interview. I don’t think it’s available online any more. 😦

    I was going to begin a non-fiction book for NaNoWriMo 2006. I got 3,000 words into the first draft and then jumped ship. I realized I was completely unprepared for the task ahead and that it all required much more research and planning then I could possibly manage alongside writing 50,000 words in 30 days. That book is shelved for the moment but I’m looking forward to your series as inspiration and guidance for breathing life back into the project.

    Thank you for providing such an informative resource for writers with your fantastic blog and of course you book, Writer Mama! I must admit it took me more than two days to read but it probably doesn’t help that I was scrawling notes and detouring to write ideas and plans down in my own notebook while reading.

  4. 4 Stephanie December 19, 2007 at 12:45 pm

    Your “next book”? What was your first book…? I think I’m totally and completely out of the loop…please enlighten me.

  5. 5 Stephanie December 19, 2007 at 12:47 pm

    Oops! Sorry about that last comment. 🙂 I thought I was on someone else’s blog. Of course, I know about “Writer Mama.” It’s a well-written, comprehensive, and easy-to-read book that I often recommend to other writer mamas…

    Sorry about the confusion!


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