Posted by Jake Magnum | April 30, 2019
How to Write Your First Non-Fiction E-Book
Step 2: Preliminary Writing Tasks and Scheduling Time to Produce Your First Draft
Use your first writing session to evaluate whether you have enough knowledge to write a full book on your topic, as well as to determine how long it will take you to write your first draft.
As I mentioned in the first article in this series, I am not an experienced self-published author. This series of articles is simply a compilation of journal entries that I am writing as I complete an ebook that I am writing as a passion project.
This article discusses the preliminary steps I took after coming up with my working title but before I construct a tentative outline for my book.
What is covered in this article:
· Choosing the right tool for writing your first draft
· Writing for two hours straight and determining how many words you can write per hour
· Creating a schedule for writing your first draft
Choose a Writing Method: Word vs. Scrivener
I’ve always used Microsoft Word for drafting my writing projects, such as my blog articles. While my search for advice on writing a non-fiction book revealed that many writers also use Word to write their drafts, a lot of experts mention that they prefer to use a writing application called Scrivener. So, before I began writing, I compared these two options. I eventually settled on using Word to produce my first draft.
The short version of this comparison is that Scrivener’s primary advantage is that it makes it easy for you to re-arrange your draft after writing it, while Word’s most notable benefit is that it has a built-in speech-to-text function which drastically speeds up the process. A more detailed discussion is given below for those who are interested.
Word’s Dictate feature is a great time-saver. This is especially true if you (like me) are not the fastest typist in the world. When I read someone’s claim that they were writing their first draft at a pace of 6,000 words per hour using Dictate, I was skeptical (I still am after trying it, as I was able to “write” at just over half as fast). Still, I was able to get words on the screen much faster using speech-to-text than I ever could using a keyboard.
Speaking instead of writing makes it a lot easier for me to get my words out without trying to edit while I write. I normally make the mistake of fixing grammar, sentence structure, etc. while I write my first draft, which experts strongly urge writers not to do. Moreover, when I type, I often find myself stopping to think about what I want to say before I put words onto the screen. Conversely, when I speak, my inhibitions and self-consciousness leave me, and I can get a lot more words down because I’m not worrying about whether there are faults with the technical aspects of my writing.
When I used the Dictate feature, I noticed that useless words find their way into my writing. I tend to say “um” fairly often when I’m talking. I’ll have to delete all of these from my writing as I compose my second draft.
Word’s speech-to-text feature doesn’t insert punctuation. As I spoke, I couldn’t verbally insert a comma, a quotation mark, a paragraph break, etc. Furthermore, the speech-to-text function often doesn’t realize when one sentence has ended and another has begun. This flaw will add to the work required during the second draft.
In my opinion, the downfalls of using Word’s Dictate feature are worth the ease and speed with which I can produce my draft. The first draft is supposed to be messy. I’m not supposed to worry about spelling and punctuation. From what I’ve read, almost none of what I write in my first draft will even make it into my book. All I’m concerned with at this stage is getting my ideas down as words — any words. Word lets me do this very quickly and efficiently. I can always go back and clean up my mess later.
Scrivener is undoubtedly a useful writing tool. I’ve downloaded the free 30-day trial here to try it out, and I’m impressed with this application. Its organizational features will surely be incredibly useful — just not during the composition of my first draft. Being able to order and re-order chapters (or sections of chapters), make notes based on my research, keep track of any new ideas I have, etc. are great advantages that Scrivener has over Word. However, while writing the first draft, I’m not concerned with any of these things, just in the same way that I don’t peel and boil vegetables while I’m at the grocery store; I just chuck them in the buggy and then prepare them later at home.
Still, Scrivener is worth downloading, especially as the free trail lasts for 30 days of use (i.e., if you were to use it only once a week, the free trial would last for 30 weeks). I’ll definitely be using Scrivener after I’ve finished my first draft.
Write for at Least Two Hours
I’m the kind of writer who prefers to work with an outline (and I will be constructing an outline in the next step in the process of writing my book). However, before outlining my book, I wanted to spend two hours writing. I wasn’t shooting to write a full chapter; I just wanted to write whatever came to mind about a few of the topics I decided on in Step 1.
As I’ve mentioned, spelling, grammar, sentence structure, and anything else that an editor would look for is not important when composing a first draft. In fact, because editing and writing utilize opposite sides of the brain, thinking too much about technicalities while producing your first draft will only hinder your progress. With this in mind, I put all my focus into simply writing as much as I could on a topic of my choice. When I got stumped, I moved on to another topic.
After finishing this writing exercise, I was able to answer two critical questions.
Is this book going to be too hard for me to write?
It should be really easy to write for at least two hours on the topics you want to cover in your book. If you’re already having trouble thinking of things to write about after a couple hours, you’re probably not going to be able to produce at least 20,000 words. Take it as a sign that you’re not ready to write your book just yet. You may need to do some more reading on the topic to gather more ideas.
When will I be able to finish my first draft?
I know I’ll need to follow a schedule if I am to complete my book some time this year. From what I’ve read, most writers’ motivation to sit down and write fluctuates from being the only thing they want to do to being the last thing they want to think about. Having a schedule helps many writers force themselves to write when they aren’t feeling inspired, and so it’s a good idea to have one.
There are four things you need to do to construct your schedule.
1) Estimate how many words you can write per hour and use this estimation to calculate how many hours it will take you to produce your first draft.
The first thing I needed to do was to estimate how many words I can write in an hour based on the two-hour writing session I just completed. I produced approximately 6,500 words during these two hours, which works out to 3,250 words per hour.
It’s not quite that simple, though. Because I “wrote” quite a few ums and uhs; because I know I’ll be deleting these words, along with a fair amount of self-talk that I used to keep myself “writing” when I got stuck, I know that the amount of useable words in my draft is less than 6,500. After I went through and did some trimming, I estimated that I had written about 6,000 usable words in two hours. This translates to 3,000 words per hour.
As I mentioned in my previous article, I’m aiming to write a 60,000-word book. Based on this, I estimate that it will take me 20 hours to write my first draft.
However, I still need to tweak this number.
2) Add time for extra tasks that you need to complete to write your first draft.
Depending on the nature of your book, you may need to add extra time for certain tasks. For example, since my book is intended to improve people’s grammar, I know that I will be using a lot of examples in my book to show what good and bad grammar look like. I also know that writing my first draft is going to be much easier if I have these examples handy to refer to while writing my draft. Thus, I need to include time in my schedule for finding useful examples.
I searched for examples that I could use for a few of my subtopics and found that it took me about 20 minutes to find enough examples to write a draft of one chapter. I’m hoping to write as many as 30 chapters, and so I need to add 600 minutes (10 hours) to my schedule, increasing the total time from 20 hours to 30 hours.
3) Give yourself an extra 20%.
Whenever I’m scheduling anything, I add an extra 20% to the time I think it will take me to complete the task. Most of us have a natural tendency to overestimate how much we can accomplish and to underestimate how long it will take us to accomplish those things. Because I’m very aware that I have this flaw, I always make a point to schedule extra time so that I don’t feel rushed.
After adding an extra 20% of my estimated time, I determined that it will take me 36 hours to produce my first draft.
4) Decide how many hours you can spend each week working on your first draft.
If you’re really eager and have a fair amount of time on your hands, you might decide to spend six hours writing every day and have your first draft finished within a week’s time. However, since I’m planning to write my book between a full-time job and a family life, I’ve found that I can reasonably make room in my schedule to write much less than this.
According to the advice I’ve read, it will be much easier for me to maintain my desired pace if I write a little bit almost every day than if I try to cram a week’s worth of writing into one or two sessions on the weekend. It’s better to write for an hour six times a week than to write for three hours twice a week.
My schedule allows me to squeeze in an hour for writing on four days throughout the workweek. I can then also spend two hours writing on each of my two days off each week. This gives me a total of about eight hours per week for writing. At this rate and with 36 hours of work to do, it will take me about six weeks to complete my first draft.
I haven’t stopped with simply telling myself that I will have my first draft finished in six weeks. I know that if I leave it there, it is likely that several months will go by before my first draft is finished, and then I’ll feel guilty and unmotivated. So, I’ve taken the trouble of writing the weekly schedule I mentioned in the previous paragraph into my day planner where I will see it every day.
Once Step 2 of the writing process is complete, I will have only one task left to tackle before I officially start writing my first draft. The next step will be to create a tentative outline for my book. My process for doing this will be the topic of the next article in this series.
Of all the articles I read about drafting a non-fiction ebook, by far the most helpful was Writing the First Draft: The No-Nonsense Guide for Authors by Bryan Collins.