How I write in Flow – nonfiction

If you’d like a day out and support and guidance to start Flowing your book, come along to one of my Book Shaping Days – I’d LOVE to see you there!

The process of Flowing nonfiction is slightly different to fiction – at least for me – and much easier.

Creating structure

I find creating a planned structure essential for nonfiction, whereas for fiction, I let my unconscious mind take care of that for me.

Personally, I find seeing structure easy: dividing content into chapters and then points of interest, but if this isn’t you there are some easy processes you can use to clarify the structure of what you want to say – I’ll talk about one of those further down.

Who is the audience, and what do they want?

The first thing is to know who I want to write for, and how I want their lives to change as a result. It’s an easy question to answer, and in answering it, I clarify my direction.

Creating the document

Then there is the mechanical process of creating a document for the book, with chapter headings, sub headings and point by point headings. I put all these in italics, and appropriate heading styles, and get the word processor to create a contents page automatically.

Filling in the blanks

Writing from here is very, very easy. Any time I have a gap in my schedule, and time to write a little bit, I scan down through the headings to see what I feel like writing today. It works really well if the headings are in small, bite-sized chunks, so lots of them. Then I can write that small piece, turn off the italics, and either go on to another one or come back tomorrow.

The first time I wrote a book in this way, I didn’t even realise I had finished. I came back to it to write some more, and there were no more italic headings, I had done them all!

If writing isn’t your Flow

If writing isn’t easy for you, think about what is.

  • Could you record a short audio for each heading, and get it transcribed and edited?
  • Could you get someone to interview you, creating questions for each of the headings, and speak your content in conversation to a fascinated listener? These questions can make thought-provoking headings in the text, often more engaging than a factual heading.
  • Have you already recorded the content in workshops or speaking?
  • Do you have a series of blog posts you could adapt?

Or is it the size of the task that daunts you, in which case just having it divided into small sections may be all you need to make it possible to write.

An easy way to plan

If you tend to think big picture, and three-dimensionally, with ideas connecting in many different directions, an easy way to create a structure and order to your book is to get a pile of blank cards and write a point on each, in whatever order they occur to you, until you have everything you can think of down.

Then shuffle them up, go through them and divide them into piles of related ideas. Five to twelve chapters is usually about right, so group or separate the piles until you are in that range. Think of chapter headings that will appeal to your target audience.

Divide and divide

Then take each pile and divide that up again into logical groupings. Think of more subheadings – and consider the use of questions again for these, to engage the reader’s thinking.

The last step is to put the cards in order, then type the headings into your document, and get started on Flowing your content, step-by-step.

Good luck, and if you have any questions, please ask!

Would you like some help?

If you’d like a day out and support and guidance to start Flowing your book, come along to one of my Book Shaping Days – I’d LOVE to see you there!

How I write in Flow – fiction

People often ask me about my writing process, how it is so easy for me; so it seems a good idea to describe how writing works for me.

The process has evolved over time, refining and simplifying, until it is very, very easy, very consistent, with just one or two small provisos about sitting down and getting on with it, no matter how I feel on the day.

Most often it’s exhilarating, sometimes it’s not

Perhaps that has been the big key, the big element to my consistency of Flow – ignoring how I feel in any given moment, not waiting for the moments of inspiration, just trusting they will come once I get the keyboard under my hands. Most often it’s exhilarating, exciting, energising. Sometimes it’s not. But we’ll get to that…

I work with clients mostly on non-fiction works, taking their message and getting it out to a wider audience in book form. Most of my own big projects have been novels, however, so let’s look at how those have worked for me.

Going off-piste

I started writing when I was six and I’ve always known it was what I wanted to do. Then at around 15 I went off-piste, into the wilderness of science and IT, through the wilds of small business, writing always in my spare time, but generally just distracting myself from what I knew in my heart I needed to do. It was a momentous, but at the time insignificant day, when I promised myself that whatever else I did, I would take at least five minutes a day to follow my passion.

Five minutes a day

So I did just that. Every day (or almost, I wasn’t fanatical about it, just felt a strong tug in my heart at the end of the day if I had missed) I sat down at my computer, document open, and let out whatever came through my fingers. Most days I had no idea what I would write; but I always knew something would come. Sometimes I would hear the words before I started to type; sometimes my fingers would begin to move and the words formed on the screen, coming from a deeper part of myself than conscious mind. But they always came.

I used to plan my novels, but then I’d sit down and write something different; so I gave up planning and trusted the creative process, the single creative arc that happens when you reconnect with a project every day.

No jugdement…

And here’s the thing: I had no judgement about how much I wrote on any one day, as long as I reconnected with the story. Some days it was one sentence, and that was enough to reconnect. Most days, however, I would look up and see an hour had gone by, there were 1500 more words on the word count, and the story had significantly progressed. Most days. Some days not. And that was okay.

I also had no judgement on the quality of the writing, just kept going, head down, every day, and this turned out to be the game-changer, the thing that allowed the Flow to really accelerate. More about that later, too…

Building momentum

An interesting thing happens when I write in this way, every day, reconnecting… the story becomes part of me, sitting in the background of my life with the characters continuing off-stage lives. I get drawn in, caught up, and the story builds momentum, to the point that once the final act climax is in sight, it takes me over, and in a two day rush the last 10,000 words appear at speed – that has been my experience for each of my novels so far, and that time is such a buzz, such an expressive, creative joy, it’s almost worth engaging in the process for that alone.

The single creative arc

So what about when the story is complete? Where does the book go from there? There were two things I discovered once I started to write in this consistent way: first, that even though there were days when the writing seemed to flow and it felt great, and other times it was the opposite, when I looked back, there was no difference in the quality of writing at all! This astounded me, and it was immensely freeing. It meant I could keep going, with no judgement, day to day, just trusting the process.

The other thing was that when I reconnected to the story daily, there was very little editing required. The story structure was perfect, I just needed to change a word or sentence here or there to make the writing more elegant; the story as a whole needed no change.

So editing became a simple task, I’d do what I could myself and then hand it over to a professional editor for a last run through, engage my team of selfless proof readers and be ready to publish.

Last tips

Robert McKee’s Story: Even though I’d been writing my whole life, my craft as a writer took a significant leap when I read Robert McKee’s Story, a comprehensive study of the structure of satisfying, successful stories through history. I also attended his workshop in New York, delivering the same content – an enormously valuable experience.

Painting myself into a corner: If at any time I felt the story was flagging, I would paint myself into a creative corner, have a character do or say something surprising, that I would then have to explain and incorporate into the wider story. This creative pressure produced some of my best moments as a writer.

Find my novels online

You can find my novels online at, or search Jennifer Manson on any ebook site; or have a look at my author page.

And now, non-fiction – see the next post.

Would you like some help?

If you’d like some support and guidance to start, or to move a project along, I’d LOVE to see you on one of my Book Shaping Days. Book online or email me and we’ll have a chat.