DIY Bookbinding

Spreading The Words One Author At A Time

Speed Write Your Non-Fiction Book Using Dictation

For any first time non-fiction book author there are two enormous hurdles to overcome in order to succeed in publishing their book. You must face the blank page and get started and then you must get through the first draft.

These hurdles are not as high as they first appear and with the two strategies you are about to learn, they will shrink even further.

Staring down the blank page is like deciding to go on a cross country trip. Say you are in New York and decide to go to California. If you you just hop in the car and start driving west, every turn will be difficult because you really don’t know enough about where you are going to make a good choice. The wise traveler pulls out a map first and picks a few major stopping points on the trip. Then the specific roads to take to each point are selected. Once the trip is planned out, the driving begins.

The Road Map to a First Draft of Your Book

Most first time non-fiction authors don’t start out by looking at the map. There is a map for creating non-fiction books. The book map includes major way stops and the roads in between. When the writer consults the map, it becomes much easier to plan the journey. So, what is this map?

The map is other successful books. Spend a little time at the bookstore looking at similar books to the one you want to create and it becomes easy to see that there is a basic structure to all of them. Author and product creation consultant Fred Gleeck calls it the 25/4/2 system.

Books in the non-fiction world can be roughly broken down to 25 main topics (the chapters), 4 sub-topics inside each topic, and 2 paragraphs of actual content for each sub-topic. Organize your information around this road map and write the content and you will have a text that will work out to be approximately 120-150 pages in paperback format. This is a respectable length for a non-fiction book.

Creating the outline of these points is the “planning your trip” portion of the writing journey. The topics and sub-topics outline where you want to go. Writing the paragraphs for those sub-topics is the actual trip to your first draft.

So, step one is to create your 25/4/2 outline for your book.

Choosing the Fastest Way To Write

Once you know where you are going, it is time to choose the fastest vehicle to get you there. For me, dictation is the key to speed.

Rather than sitting down with a pen and paper, or at your computer keyboard, have a friend sit down with you and interview you based on your 25/4/2 outline. Your friend will ask you to explain each sub-topic and your responses will be the paragraphs in the first draft. Momentum is vital, so don’t stop to look up information or verify facts. Leave what I call a breadcrumb note for yourself and move on. A breadcrumb can be as simple as saying, “find statistics to back this up.”

After everything is recorded, hire a typist to transcribe your recording. That transcript is your very rough – but completed – first draft.

Now it is time to go through the text, cleaning up your breadcrumbs and smoothing out the language. After this first pass, you will be ready to share the first draft with some reviewers and get feedback for your second draft.

Finishing Your Book

There is still a lot of work to be done to move from the first draft to a completed book. But completing this draft is a major milestone and creates a momentum for the project that greatly increases the likelihood that your book will get finished.

Many first time writers (I am as guilty of this as anyone) start plowing into the writing without a plan and get lost in the content. Frustration builds until they abandon the project. But, when you have a first draft to show, the project becomes ‘real’ to you and other people can react to what you have created.

Plan your trip by consulting the road map and then get yourself a fast car!

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  1. That’s a great tip, actually. I know a similar tip. but this seems less overwhelming than the other tip I know. I was wondering how do the sub-topics relate to the main topic. For example the main topic may be Hunting. Would a sub topic be Bow and Arrows, or how hunting evolved to where it is now? Something like that? Also, can this method be used to write fiction novels as well? The 24 main points would seem to be pivotal plot moments, while the sub-topics would comprise the actual events within those moments? Anyways, thanks again for producing a great article. Can’t wait to use it.

  2. Patrick,

    The whole point of a writing system is to break the process down into small enough pieces that you feel like you can do the work. Most people (myself included) struggle with the first draft and the faster you get there the better positioned you are to actually finish your book.

    In the example you give on hunting, if the whole book is on hunting, then the history of hunting tools might be one of the main topics topics and Bow and Arrows would be a sub-topic along with Guns, and whatever other tools you choose to include. Hunting as Sport might be another main topic with it’s own set of sub topics.

    If you feel a sub-topic needs to be broken down even further, than do so. But, if not, just pull together the basics and start working.

    You can certainly use dictation for a fiction novel, but the 24/4/2 framework might not be the most efficient way to organize your work. The method that I’ve found most helpful there is to create ‘scene’ cards using index cards and compiling a collection of all of the major scenes that occur in the story. Then, you can sort the scenes into the best sequence for telling the story. Some new scenes will get added and others cut as you refine the story. Then, when the big picture is set, you go in and start to elaborate on the scene cards to create your first draft.

    Some fiction writers like to start by writing some exploratory work in the voice of each character to gain a better understanding of their main characters and create more fully rounded characters.

    I’m glad you liked this article and hope that it helps you in your writing.


  3. All this info is great.In a movie you have scenes. I use that method. I will look through my imaginary camcorder and I see only what is inside that square.Then I don’t tell my reader what I see… instead we walk into the see and become a part of it.Now I am showing rather than telling.Inside the square you can hear the water pouringover some rocks, there are three little birds chirping nearby, etc. My imaginary camcorder has a zoom lens. I can zoom in and see a small torn part on a dress, a shoestring that’s coming loose. Then I zoom back out and keep right on writing. I just finished my latest western novel Dancing Rabbit Creek. In this book I had about sixty scenes that I full describe. Also, Everywhere I go I have pencil and paper. A thot hits me, I write it down, put it in a shoebox and later on look them over. I had about 150 ‘prompts’ that kept things moving. In a movie I am told they film the ending first. That’s what I did. I wrote the last chapter in detain. Worked with just a minor tweak here and there. Soryy if I rambled. Keep up the good owrk. Tom Feltman

  4. Pardon some of my writing. Am capable of doing much better.


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