Now look at the opening sentence and paragraph of the chapter you are working on, or at the section of that chapter. Do you have a strong hook? Does the reader want to keep reading? Many publishing houses and agents receive 5,000 to 10,000 proposals a year. If the editors aren't impressed by the first paragraph, they may not continue reading.
For many authors, beginnings are the most difficult part of the manuscript to write. After reading thousands of book proposals that come through our manuscript critique service, I see that it often takes the author two to three pages to reach the meat of his or her message. You will probably spend more time rewriting your lead paragraph and your first chapter than any other part of your book. Beginnings, for me, are the most difficult part of a manuscript to write.
Don't keep working on the beginning of a chapter, editing the material over and over again. Go onto another chapter and come back later with fresh eyes to the previous material. Writing requires a great deal of editing, but it helps not to dwell on one section for too long at a time.
Next week we will talk about “The Thirty-second Pitch” you will give to potential agents and editors.
Now read through your chapter straight through for flow and focus. Make marks in the margin wherever you see a problem. Read it uninterrupted. You will see things on the overview that you might miss when you are going through your manuscript line by line.
Ask yourself these twelve evaluation questions.
1. Do I have a good lead?
2. Is my chapter interesting?
3. Is it significant?
4. Is my story or book marketable?
5. Does it have continuity?
6. Does it make sense?
7. Have I left out any important points?
8. Did I say what I wanted to say?
9. Are my transitions adequate?
10. Did I repeat my thoughts?
11. Did I use complete sentences?
12. Does my ending tie into my beginning?
Next week we will concentrate on your opening sentence and paragraph.
Now let’s talk about the third step in my Three-Step Writing Process:
3. Self-editing. Allow each chapter to cool before beginning to self-edit. This is the longest stage of writing and requires both sides of the brain.
Did you go where you intended? If not, you either need to change your manuscript or change your outline. Sometimes you even need to change your premise, because you didn't go in the direction you intended.
Go back and look at your outline and theme sentence. Do they need revision? Does your chapter support your outline and theme for that chapter? If not, you need to change either your paragraph description or your first rough draft. Remember that neither is set in concrete.
What I'm saying is it's all right to change your mind. Your manuscript doesn't flow from your computer and settle in concrete. Sometimes the most basic parts of it eventually need to be changed. Be flexible and prayerful as you edit your work.
Next week we will talk about doing an overview of your work and asking yourself 12 questions.
Writing the first rough draft is probably the most emotional birthing phase of the entire process of writing a nonfiction book. Once the words are on paper, you need to emotionally detach yourself from your baby. Lay it aside for a week and let it cool.
Go on to another chapter or on to another writing project. I suggest you go through this same writing process for each chapter of your book. Develop a focus, an outline, and then write the first rough draft. It might be a good idea to write the easiest chapters first if you are organized enough to determine those you can write quickly, or do them chronologically.
God inspires us to write, but He is not going to do our work for us—He will only guide us along the way. Writing the first draft is the creative part. For me, this is the easiest part. The hard part is rewriting, and rewriting, and rewriting. God never promised us that life would be easy, and He never said that writing would be easy. After over 40 years I still struggle with my writing.
Next week we will talk about the third step in my “Three-step Writing Process
Step 2 of my Three-Step Writing Process is writing the First Rough Draft. To write your first rough draft, you use the creative (right) side of your brain.
Find a large block of uninterrupted time and write all the information you can think of regarding your book. Don't get hung up in grammar, punctuation, or phraseology. Write whatever comes to mind. Some of your chapters will be briefly outlined on this first rough draft, others may be in detail, and some won't exist at all.
You may choose to write a synopsis of the entire book, or you may want to take smaller chunks of your “elephant” so you don't get indigestion. On the first sitting, I write a brief overview of the book. After that, I usually write a chapter at a time, so I'm usually dealing with 15-20 pages at a time. I follow the same steps for each chapter. If there are personal stories within the chapter, I use the same process for each story.
Be sure to take a break after writing a rough draft. More tips on this will be given next week.
Next create a preliminary outline before you begin the actual writing of your book. This may change as the writing progresses, but you need a guideline to start with. Your outline should be built around your chapter titles. Perhaps you have 10, 12, or more.
Then write a paragraph about each chapter. Be aware that this may change drastically, but it is important to get down as much information as you can.
Each point must support the main theme. Each chapter, though self-contained, needs to promote the main idea of your book.
Example from Wounded by Words:
Chapter 1: Hurtful Words – Caustic words and demeaning statements can be as dangerous to our well-being as any weapon. People often use words that dominate and control when they feel insecure themselves. Unfortunately these words are often directed at close family members, often children, and the outcome is much pain and suffering. The tension resulting from these heated words often leads to the telling of lies by both parties.
This concludes Step 1 of the Three-Step Writing Process. Lay your work aside before continuing. Step 2 will be given next week.
Now let’s talk about my Three-Step Writing Process regarding nonfiction books.
Step 1: Theme and Outline: First, decide what your main purpose is in writing this particular book. Where are you going? State your theme in one word. State it in one sentence. Know what you want to say, and say it. Keep to one subject. You are using the analytical (left) side of your brain to write your focus sentence. You will probably start with something general and refine it as you develop your book.
For an example, I am going to use my book, Wounded by Words: Healing the Invisible Scars of Emotional Abuse.
One word: abuse.
Sentence: Now is your chance to break the cycle of emotional and verbal abuse and set yourself and your loved ones free.
The major problem with most book manuscripts that are rejected is they deviate from their premises. The writer tries to tell too many stories or attempts to make too many points in one book.
Step 2 and 3 will be covered in future blogs.
Writing a nonfiction book involves many other things besides the actual writing. I also include reading, rewriting, and editing in my time. These, too, are important parts of the writing process. To write you must spend as much time reading as you do writing. You will gain ideas for your own writing, and it will help you develop your own writing style. Also you need to read articles and books on the subject you are writing about to better educate yourself on your subject.
Writing is starting with a blank computer screen and putting one word down after another. And the more information you have in your head at the time you begin, the easier the task will be. If you wrote a page a day, you'd have 365 pages at the end of a year. Of course those wouldn’t be edited pages, but we will discuss that in later blogs.
Next week we will talk about my Three-Step Writing Process.
We will begin a long series on writing nonfiction books from the formation of an idea to a final product. Writing a book is like eating an elephant. A person does not dare to attempt the project in one sitting! We will cover book proposals, writing the entire elephant, and contract negotiations. You’re reading this because you want to write, to get your book published, and to glorify God. Right? You can use these same techniques for articles, stories, and fiction, as well as nonfiction books. Are you published?
Over 40 years ago when I began writing, I made a commitment to God and to myself that I would write for an hour every day. I started writing Sunday school take-home papers. Now I have over 30 books in print, my latest being on domestic violence, titled Breaking Invisible Chains. However, with running my critique business, editing manuscripts, and teaching students to polish their writing, I still struggle with finding time to write my own books! What kind of a commitment are you willing to make? Perhaps you could start with a promise to write for an hour a day. If you spend that much time daily, I can guarantee that on many of those days you will spend much more time.
Next week we will talk about what is involved in writing a nonfiction book.