The following is an excerpt from Write-A-Thon: Write Your Book in 26 Days (And Live to Tell About It) by Rochelle Melander, now available from Writer’s Digest Books. Rochelle Melander is a certified professional coach and the author of 10 books, including a new book to help fiction and nonfiction writers write fast: Write-A-Thon: Write Your Book in 26 Days (And Live to Tell About It) (October 2011). Melander teaches professionals how to get published, establish credibility, and navigate the new world of social media. In 2006, Rochelle founded Dream Keepers Writing Group, a program that teaches writing to at-risk tweens and teens. Visit her online at www.writenowcoach.com.
Create Your Research and Development Team
Half of being smart is knowing what you’re dumb at.
“You can’t research and write a nonfiction book in a month! There’s not enough time!” said my client.
I disagree. Not only have I written several nonfiction books in a month or less (such as the one you are holding now), I’ve done the research while writing. It’s doable. Sure, you’re not going to be able to write the definitive guide to horse breeds in North America in a month (unless you have the research done or really know your stuff). But you will be able to create a book.
After working with writers for many years, I’ve noticed that we tend to expand our work to fill the amount of time we have. If we have a month to research and write a book, we do it. If we have six months or six years, we stretch our work to fit the time period. For many writers, research becomes the excuse never write or finish the book. Instead, we perpetually research. The twenty-six day writing marathon is designed to get you comfortable with good-enough research. Don’t worry about any holes in your research. You can fill in missing information during the revision process. Instead, take note of it and keep writing. I use the highlight function in my word processing program to mark sections that might need additional research. That way, I can write instead of agonizing over what I don’t have time to do at them moment.
You’ve already sketched out the structure of the book. You’ve put together a list of topics or chapter titles that you will be writing about. Print a clean copy of your book structure, complete with topic list. Put a check by any piece of the book that you can write right now—without doing any more research. Circle anything that you think you need to do research on before you can write it.
Good. Now you know what you don’t know! The next step is to gather what you need to write the book—your research and development team. Whether your research and development team is made up of living and breathing human beings or a collection of Web sites and books, you need their support to get this book written! Besides—doesn’t it sound cool to say you have to meet with your research and development team?
The Real Deal
When my colleague Susan Lang and I wrote the book, Welcome Forward: A Field Guide for Global Travelers, we had a living research and development team. And a good thing, too! Susan had never been outside the country, and I had never been to an economically underdeveloped country, where the most of the travelers who read the book would visit.
Our project manager gathered together fifteen global travelers for a weekend conference in Chicago. Through two and a half days of conversations—all of them captured on a digital recorder—we were able to develop a book structure and topic list. The conversations were filled with first-hand stories of travel and that we could use to illustrate the chapters. After the weekend, we were able to use the digital recordings to access those stories. The weekend participants were also available to us via phone and email for further information when we got stuck.
If you have a project that will benefit by the shared wisdom of others (and what project wouldn’t?), consider holding a research and development brainstorming session. You can do this in an evening, a Saturday, or over a weekend. Find a comfortable space—your living room, a community center, or the community room at the library. Provide beverages and plenty of food to nosh on. (People think better when they are eating.) Invite people you think can contribute ideas, information, or stories to your project. Create a set of questions that will help your team help you. Here are some ideas for gathering the information:
1. After you share your questions, invite participants to write down their suggestions for the book on large index cards or pieces of paper.
2. Post your questions on large pieces of newsprint and hang them around the room. Invite participants to write their answers or ideas on sticky notes and place them on the paper.
3. Post your questions one at a time and invite participants to tell stories or give information on the specific topics you are curious about. Record these.
You can also do this process in the much slower and more laborious form of interviewing team members one by one, in separate locations. This certainly has its advantages but speed isn’t one of them.
It’s also good to have a team of experts who will be available by phone or email during your writing process. Ask your team members if they are willing to be available for the duration of your marathon for short interactions. Don’t forget them in the acknowledgments when the book is done.
The Virtual R&D Team
Let’s say you don’t know anyone who can be on your team. Maybe you’re shy or just hate to ask people for help. That’s okay. Here’s the virtual answer to the R&D team.
1. Get books. Collect the books, periodicals, and other materials that will help you during the month. No doubt you’ve already begun to gather some resources for your project binder. Add to that. Pile all of your research together on a shelf, in a big box, or in a stack near your writing desk. You won’t want to have to wander around the house searching for the book you need while you are doing the write-a-thon.
2. Get access. Sign up for access to journals or other periodicals that you might need during the writing phase of your book. And, make sure that your library card is up to date! The library is a great place to get what you need to write your book. (It’s also a great place to work. But that’s another chapter.)
3. Bookmark it! Create a bookmark folder on your browser just for this book. Keep it separate from your bookmarks for social networking and gaming sites. You’re not going to have time to play games during the marathon!
4. Get an expert! You may not realize it, but you may need some real life expert information at some point during your writing process. You might need a story about someone losing a job or a most embarrassing moment. So what do you do if you don’t know anyone to ask? This is the time to put your social networking skills together. At LinkedIn, members can ask questions of anyone on the whole site. Pretty cool, eh? When you get to the site, look at the tool bar across the very top. Click on answers. When you get to the answers page, there’s a little box where you can type in your question. Go for it. As a writer, you can also use the Help a Reporter Out service to request information from thousands of potential sources (www.helpareporter.com)
5. Get a search engine. You’re going to need to research a few things online everyday. Choose a search engine that you like and that works for you. You can also set up Google alerts to email you when information in your area of interest pops up online. In order to keep your writing momentum, don’t spend more than five or ten minutes researching at a time. Get in, get your info, and get back to writing! Online research during the write-a-thon is much like consuming a fast-food dinner. The food isn’t perfect, but it does the job for now.