Write and publish your book in a year - Step 1: Collect


Writing a non-fiction book or ebook on a subject you know a lot about is a bit like tidying the house.

There is a ton of stuff in there (the house, and your head) and the challenge is to spread it all out, sort the good from the bad, then neatly arrange the good in a logical and satisfying way.

Let's start with that first task – spreading it all out. From a writing perspective, that means collecting as much information as you can in one place. That way you can stand back and have a good look at what you've got.

To start the 'collection' process for your book, think about where your knowledge exists at the moment. For the clients I work with on ghostwriting projects, this varies widely.

Perhaps you have a collection of speeches, articles, or blog posts compiled over a number of years. You may have notes from workshops you have delivered in the past. Maybe you've drafted a few chapters at some stage. Or, of course, you could have a good store of information residing in your head. It could be a combination of a number of these.

Wherever your knowledge is, the trick to collecting your knowledge is to use a method that is quick and easy for you. The options can broadly be divided into two types: physical and electronic.

Physical collection

This is a good excuse to spend some time roaming around your local Officeworks, Staples or other stationery megastore. Today's filing options are myriad. Physical collection options I use include:

  • expanding files. A cheap one is a good option for this task. As you go, label each pocket with a fairly broad topic heading. Don't try to do this at the outset, but rather allow the topics to evolve as you sort your information.

  • desktop filer. These use standard filing cabinet hanging files. An advantage over expanding files is that the hanging files are easily to relabel and, later, reorder.

  • a file rack (usually metal) that can sit on the desk and holds normal manila folders. Manila folders are extra-easy to relabel and reorder.

  • ring-binders.

Whichever method you use, the point is to collect your information in rough categories or topics, but not to analyse it at this stage.

Electronic collection

If most of your information is already on your computer, this may be the way to go. Your choice of electronic collection over physical may also depend on your personal preference for working one way or another. Approaches include:

  • using Windows Explorer (PC) or Finder (Mac), create a main folder for your project and sub-folders within that for each broad topic. Then move or copy your existing documents into those folders. Nest further sub-folders if required but, again, don't over-analyse. 

  • use one of the hundreds of applications available for the collection of digital notes and files. I couldn't possibly do justice to any of them here, except to say that the ones I use most often are Scrivener (a full-featured program for book writers on which I will write more in future) and Evernote

Once again the trick at this point is not to over-analyse, but rather to dump your materials into one place. In short: Don't think ... do!

Random notes and thoughts

Once you start this process, your brain will start to generate new thoughts and ideas at speed. You need a way to collect these too, as they occur. All writers will tell you that if you don't capture good ideas as they happen, they will evaporate. So keep a notepad with you at all times (including beside the bed), or use your smart phone – the voice recording feature can be good for this – to grab hold of inspiration as it strikes. From time to time, sort these thoughts out and add them to your physical or electronic collection as well.

Your goal for the next month ...

... is to get your collection well under way. Go through your office, your files, your computer and your book cases and pull together as much of your own material as you can. You will probably be surprised at how much there is. Collect it together using one or two of the above methods. In the end you'll have a good crop which will be ripe for harvesting in a month's time.

May your words pour onto the page,

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This blog post was originally published on David Brewster’s blog over here. Photo by Patrick Tomasso on Unsplash.