Every published book has a unique story behind it. When I share about my nonfiction writing process during author visits and writing workshops, people ask what inspires me to write.
Personal stories of people and history inspire me. This world excites me.
As a nonfiction writer, I keep a notebook of ideas on my desk. Do you have a notebook dedicated to writing ideas? If not, it’s time to start one, especially if you write nonfiction! (You may even want to include a table of contents like I use in my research notebook so you can find your ideas easily later.)
I tend to ask myself questions when I’m looking for writing ideas. You can ask yourself the same questions to find your next writing project.
What have I done?
Have you visited a museum about tractors? Ridden a roller coaster? Reenacted a Civil War battle? Driven cross country?
Along with this, think of the people you have met—in real life, family stories, and books, and documentaries. If their story inspires you, take note of them and their accomplishments.
Consider what you’ve done (recently and in the distant past) and people who inspire you. Add a few ideas to your writing notebook of ideas.
What do I know about?
Are you an expert on a topic? Or a knowledgeable enthusiast?
Some people are experts on wind sailing or Harriet Tubman. But that’s not me.
I make a fabulous chocolate chip cookie and a few other desserts, but five recipes don’t make a book. But I can rewrite some of my favorite recipes and submit to magazines—but only after I’ve studied exactly how the magazine formats their recipes. Recipes also make fabulous back matter in books of all kinds.
As an environmental educator, I facilitated an owl pellet dissection and taught about owls every week for years. Owls still amaze me.
So, I knew I wanted to write about owls. It took 35 drafts, but Whooo Knew? The Truth About Owls (Reycraft Books) became a book in 2020.
What do I like to do?
Are you a rock climber? Watercolor artist? Sometimes a hobby—even reading—can inspire a book.
I was reading The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe by C. S. Lewis with my kids in 2014. We had another book to dive deep into the world of Narnia called Roar! by David and Heather Kopp. That book inspired me to write a guide to the pioneer world Laura Ingalls Wilder wrote about in the Little House books. My book explores the history, people, “fact or fiction,” along with discussion ideas for Wilder’s nine books. To help readers “Live Like Laura,” I also included 75 activities in The Laura Ingalls Wilder Companion: A Chapter-by-Chapter Guide (Chicago Review Press, 2020).
What do you want to know more about?
What I’m curious about is the most important question of all. If I only wrote about what I know, I would not have ten published books and more on the way. Curiosity drives me.
How do roller coasters work?
What animal builds a nest of leaves in trees?
How did the International Space Station get built?
When Reycraft Books, the publisher of Whooo Knew? The Truth About Owls, told me they were interested in making it a series, I created a list of animals I wanted to know more about. I love that readers now read about the science of dogs while cuddling with their pup in Woof! The Truth About Dogs. And Scurry! The Truth About Spiders helps readers to better understand spiders so they can celebrate them—or at least not live in fear. The series continues with books focusing on frogs and cats in 2022!
There’s truth that good writers write about what they know. But nonfiction writers also write about topics they’re curious about. Then, after researching and brainstorming—they write about what they know! (Read more about brainstorming a nonfiction writing project.)
For my faith-filled writing friends, it’s easy to look for God in this world since He made it. Whether you sprinkle faith in your writing or focus on it, God inspires us through the things we do, know, enjoy, and wonder. We’re designed with purpose, and your writing has purpose, too, whether you write for yourself or an audience.
Celebrate curiosity. Let yourself wonder. Ask questions. And keep a notebook full of ideas for writing projects.
Annette Whipple celebrates curiosity and inspires a sense of wonder while exciting readers about science and history. She’s the author of many fact-filled children’s books including The Laura Ingalls Wilder Companion: A Chapter-by-Chapter Guide (Chicago Review Press), The Story of the Wright Brothers (Rockridge Press), and Woof! The Truth About Dogs (Reycraft Books) in The Truth About series. When Annette’s not reading or writing, you might find her baking for her family in Pennsylvania. Get to know her and explore her resources for teachers and writers at www.AnnetteWhipple.com.
Please connect with her here: