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How to reduce the number of drafts it takes to finish your non-fiction book

Sheila Chandra - Friday, December 15, 2017

Most people expect to go through several drafts when writing a book. Each has its use, but endless revisions can leave you feeling confused, lacking in confidence (after all, it’s a nit-picking process) and unable to finish it.

The key to not indulging in hundreds of revisions is to plan and to tackle each particular level of the book at a time – e.g. grammar and typos, content etc. in a logical fashion. If you’re only concentrating on one level at a time, you’re far more likely to get it written efficiently. Here are my tips for making the process easier….

  1. Decide what your criteria for the book is, before you ever start writing in earnest. This always makes it easier. What will make it a ‘well-written book’ in your own estimation? Make it fit for purpose. Decide who the book is aimed at and what they’ll want to know (including their ‘objections’ to your points). What will make them want to read it? People are busy… what will the book give them that they’re dying to know? What will make them keep reading? Decide the ground that the book will cover. Decide the tone you will use. Use this time to throw out your preconceptions about how the book ‘should’ be in favour of how great it can be. In many ways, the more human and simple, the better… Don’t rush this process – often it takes longer than the actual writing, and for good reason. In a way, this is the time where the book is ‘gestating’ in your subconscious mind. The more thoroughly you work at this stage, the easier the actual writing will be, and the more pleased you’ll be with the result.
  2. Structure the book. Set out the chapters and what each will cover using your criteria as decided above. Will your reader learn all they expected? It can be useful to go so far as to write the subheadings within each chapter, so that when you come to write the first draft, you know exactly where you’re going with it. This can also help you check everything is covered in a logical fashion and that your reader will know where to get the information they’re looking for if they’re skim reading.
  3. Start writing. Stick closely to your chapter and subheading plan. Yes this doesn’t feel as ‘creative’ but it’s going to save you work. Save the creativity for the tone, the language and the metaphors. Remember, one level at a time!
  4. Do a rough skim for glaring typos and grammatical errors. But only rough. You’re going to revise again before you’re finished.
  5. Send the book out (with a copyright symbol on it next to your name in the footer) to get some reactions from people who are your target audience. Ask them not to comment on grammar or typos, but on the ‘big picture’. Take what they say with a grain of salt but if you get the same reaction from more than one person, take note. Use your own judgement when deciding on which criticisms are valid. Remember you’ll probably get 3 reactions for every 6 copies you send out. Some people find they’re too busy to read it and get back to you in good time…
  6. Revise the content. This is your most major revision. Bear your audience reactions in mind. Change the running order if it’s not working, cut any sections, stories or phrases that make you ‘squirm’, and add in anything you forgot the first time around.
  7. Work on the words. Once the content is set, it’s time to work on a finer level. Correct any grammar based flaws, change any words or phrases that are peculiarly British if the book is to be marketed in other English speaking countries. Publishers often favour slightly American English for words like ‘rubbish’ (e.g. garbage/trash) or ‘mobile’ (e.g. cellphone).
  8. Do a final check for typos. This is best done with a hard copy. The eye simply doesn’t spot fine errors as well on a screen. Check that your use of apostrophes, brackets and dashes is correct, as well as spellings etc.
  9. Format your book for a publisher. Reformat the book in double spaced ‘Courier New’ font point 12 size. Use a title page with word count. Put your name and the book name e.g. ‘Chandra/Banish Clutter Forever’ in the header and the page number in the footer. Start each chapter a third of the way down the page. Bold all titles and subheadings. Do not justify the text (keep it aligned to the left of the page). The first line under each heading can begin as normal but each new paragraph after that under the same heading must be indented (this is so a printer can tell where each new paragraph begins).

If you’re working on a book and need help, try my creative coaching service for more perspective and better results. I offer a free 30 minute consultation to see if I’m the right coach for you. Contact me for more details…

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