Developing your idea takes time. Many people think writing is just sit, write, edit. A grievous misconception. Development is necessary to streamlined writing. Invest time now and your entire writing process will be smoother. In this series, we’re working on a week-to-week process. Although some pieces can be sped up if needed, remember that mental space is essential to ideation and structural development.
The biggest part of writing a non-fiction book is trust. It’s trust that you have something to say, that is worth saying, that people need.
When we write, we transfer knowledge. But where does that knowledge come from? Us. It comes from the way we perceive the world, the way we internalize our learning. The knowledge we transfer is uniquely ours. This is why ideation is intuitive. There are many ways to structure a book, many templates and how-to manuals. Yet structure and craft must come after ideation. Why? Intuition does not fit a template. Intuition is about you, the writer, the sender, the creator, the questioner. Intuition is about your what if?
Not sure about what if? Step back for a moment. Think.
Writing begins in the moment of what if?
Science begins in the moment of what if?
Creativity begins in the moment of what if?
What if? and I don’t know are two of the most important sentences in the universe. When we say these things, we are poised for discovery. We are ready to ideate. If we ignore these lines in favor of someone else’s ideas, someone else’s template, we box ourselves in. We fail to create. We fail to learn. It’s easy to skip what if moments — many of us are trained to follow a set path. We think of analysis, research, data. And that’s wonderful. But the world is not discovered solely through analysis. The world is discovered through questions. Scientific achievement — highly dependent on data, analysis, and research as it is — hinges on the moment of what if?
Right now, as you think about your book, you stand at the edge of a cliff. Below, the ocean is lovely, dark and deep. The wind is high. You are alone.
You could leap and trust the wind, fall and forget about the landing. You could craft wings and take off, or purchase a paraglider. You could step back, meander toward the village below. What you do is up to you — not me. Not the guy with the wax wing manual for only $7.95, comes with free wax. Not the woman selling paragliders thirty feet down the road.
You drive your decisions. If you decide on the paraglider, you talk to the woman. If you want wax wings, you seek out the guy. Writing is the same. Structure and templates have their place; we’ll discuss them later on in this series. But first, you need to develop your idea. You need to trust yourself, trust your knowledge is meaningful, useful, and needed. Until you do that, your writing will not be truly yours — and your idea will never reach its full potential.
Developing your idea takes time. Many people think writing is just sit, write, edit. A grievous misconception. Development is necessary to streamlined writing. Invest time now and your entire writing process will be smoother.
I’ve laid out this series as week-to-week work. Although some pieces can be sped up, if needed, mental space is essential to ideation and structural development. If it feels like you’re taking a long time, consider how much time you spend talking and thinking about an idea before we hit the keyboard. A lot, right? This is a codification of that process, a way to get the most out of our natural tendencies and skills.
So, let’s get started.
W/W/W Framework: What, Why, Why?
How do I work out my idea?
How do I figure out my argument?
How do I structure a book?
I hear these questions often. They are good, valid questions.
Right now, they’re also the wrong questions.
In the early stages of book genesis, we do not limit ourselves. We think broadly. We keep an open, flexible mind. We use the W/W/W framework – what, why, why.
- What’s my story?
- Why do I care?
- Why does my receiver care?
Why does this matter? Why do we think about story and caring this early in the game?
Because writing is about connection.
When we write, we send a message, literally transferring thoughts from mind to page. When we read, we receive a message, literally taking thoughts from the page, beaming them through a complex web of cognition and interpretation to reconstruct the writer’s intent. Connection starts early. It’s an organic process, something we can’t overlay after the fact. This means that to write well, we need to start drawing connections between our idea, our passion, and the reader’s need as soon as we can. A book written without reader-need has no market; a book written without passion is dusty and apathetic. Identifying why our receiver cares is an essential part of our development process. Answering our what, why, why questions helps us jumpstart this process, start creating a connection between sender and receiver.
Take some time now. Jot down a few notes. It doesn’t matter if you write a line, or if you write six or seven grafs. Don’t think too hard. Just write. If the blank screen bothers you, scratch about on a notepad. Use diagrams, sketches, anything. Give in to thinking. But do not take too long. Keep your scratch session to under an hour. Anything over this crosses into over-thinking territory, the bane of the creative mind. Remember, this is an intuitive process. Go with your gut. Trust yourself. Trust the knowledge you’ve accumulated and internalized.
Once you’ve worked out your answers, step back for a little while, then go back and re-read. Next, work through our second set of questions:
- How long can I talk about my idea? Test this out. Aim to talk about your idea for five minutes. If you get stuck, you’re not ready to start playing with structure or refining. If you can make five minutes easily — and keep going — you’re ready to pass Go.
- How often do I say “I don’t know?” Many of us are trained to think of not knowing as weakness. It is not. I don’t know is an important ideation marker. If you know everything going into the writing process, chances are, your book will be boring. Why? Because writing is also about discovery. Fiction, non-fiction, even academic essays — all good writing embodies an element of discovery. To write is to learn. To learn is to care. And to care is to connect. If you have fewer than three “I don’t know” points, you’re not ready to move on to structure yet. Go read. Widely. Out of your field, when you can. Keep an open mind, and let your thoughts skim about, looking for connections.
- Who can I talk to? And how much do I trust them? Discussion is an essential part of writing. It’s often said that writing is a solitary process. And it is, in the sense of having to sit in the chair and create. Yet having an open, flexible person to chat to makes writing both easier and more enjoyable. Every writer needs a person, someone to spitball with, someone to explore potentialities and offer “what if” and “have you thought of” moments. It is easy to grow too close to a written work; having a go-to person keeps you on balance. Choose someone you trust, someone who knows you well. They do not have to be an expert in your field–they only have to be an expert on you.
Spend the next few days working through this post. Go back and re-read your W/W/W answers. Practice talking about your idea. Call up a few friends and chat. Get comfortable with your idea. Explore it. Jot down your thoughts.
Next week, we’ll dig into Socratic dialogue, a way to critically assess your idea, refine it, and start working on a plan.