Posted by: nancyisanders | March 3, 2014

Nonfiction Picture Book: Find Your Writing Rhythm


By this point in my career, I’ve learned a few things about myself. One of the things I’ve discovered is that I work better and have more productive writing days when I stay in tune with my very own personal writing rhythm.

In other words, there’s a pattern I follow on days of heavy-duty writing to really pump out solid content.

I wanted to share this with you in hopes that you can discover your own personal writing rhythm so that you can experience successful writing days, too.

Here’s the rhythm I follow when I’m working on a nonfiction article or book or a heavily researched manuscript such as the historical fiction chapter books I write for the popular Imagination Station series.

One: First I spend a few minutes reading my sample published book (or article if I’m working on an article). When I’m working on my next Imagination Station book, for example, as I’ll be doing in the month ahead since I just got the go-ahead from my editor this morning to start writing the next book, I sit down with one of the other published books in the series to read a chapter or a scene.

For this nonfiction picture book I’m currently working on, I start my writing session out by re-reading the picture book, Those Rebels, John and Tom. It doesn’t matter if I’ve read the same 4 pages twenty-eight times. Starting my writing session by re-reading my sample book helps get my brain focused on the writing task before me. It helps my brain get in gear for the word count and the voice and the target age. This is a crucial step to get started on the right foot for the day. And I tend to only re-read the section I’m currently writing. For example, if I’m working on the beginning section, I just read the beginning section of my sample book (I figured this out on my plot chart when I charted the book, so refer to the chart you made as you do this.)

Two: Next I pull up my manuscript and read over what I wrote the day before. Often I’m surprised to find out my brain has been working on it in my subconscious since then and has quick fixes for some of the problem spots. I try not to spend more than 15 or 20 minutes on this self-editing stage. My goal for the day, after all, is not to spend it in editing but to write fresh new content for the chunk that I’ve written down as my writing goal for the day.

Three: I then spend an hour or so in research, taking notes, keeping track of page numbers for facts I find and which sources I use.

Yes, before I write each day I usually spend about an hour in research. I’ve found this is the best way to destroy writer’s block because research gives me something to write about.

Once again, I try not to spend too much time in research. I’ve found that if I start spending more than an hour in research before I sit down to write, I forget what I’ve researched. So I try to limit my research to an hour, setting the kitchen timer if needs be to keep on tract with my writing rhythm.

Over the years I’ve done different methods of research. Currently my favorite one is to sit in a comfy chair with a stack of research books to read. I jot notes down in a spiral notebook. When my hour is up, I move to my desk and type up some of my notes on the computer and add footnotes with bibliographical sources to each page so I keep track of what I’ve researched and where.

Four: Now I sit down to write. For this project, I’m only writing 200 words in the beginning section, 200 words in the first half of the middle, and 200 words in the second half of the middle, and 200 words at the end. (All this is approximate, of course. I’ll talk more about our word count in the next post.) But 200 words is actually very do-able and I can usually write 200 words of a FIRST DRAFT in an hour or less.

As I write, if there is something I need to further research to fill in a gap, I just put XX in my manuscript or write my sentence in red. Either sign alerts me to know I have to go back in and research that section even further. But I try to keep writing and pushing past that spot to get my writing goal finished for this session.

Again, I’ve used different methods for writing over the years but currently I like to sit on the couch with my feet up and write my first draft by hand in a spiral notebook. This keeps my eyestrain and wrist strain to a minimum. When I’m done, I move to my computer and type out what I’ve written and add in footnotes to each page to track my research sources and page numbers where I found facts for each sentence I wrote.

Five: After I’ve met my writing goal, if I have time, I go back and flesh out spots that need 3 research sources if I’ve only had one. Or I research for facts I need to confirm.

There! That’s my typical writing rhythm each day as I’m working on a manuscript. Specifically, it’s the rhythm I’m working in as I work now to write the first draft of my 800-word nonfiction picture book.

If you don’t yet have a writing rhythm, try using mine. You just might like it! And if you have a writing rhythm for writing nonfiction that works well for you, I’d love to hear what it is! Let us know and we could try it too.


  1. Thanks for sharing your writing rhythm. It’s good for me to see how other authors navigate their writing and to learn new techniques from them.

    • You’re welcome, Joan! Have a happy writing day!

  2. Hi Nancy,
    I’m enjoying and learning from your posts about writing non-fiction. Congrats on the go ahead. 🙂

    • Thanks, Tracy! And glad you’re enjoying our nonfiction journey.

  3. Aww, I see a couple of cozy cats there! I think they might be a part of your writing rhythm too, no? Thanks for this valuable insight to how to stay on track again, Nancy! Writing really is a process and if we don’t give ourselves the time to go through that process we shortchange ourselves. Thanks for sharing your ‘trade secrets’ with us!!

    • Ha ha, yes those are Sandman and Pitterpat there, Val! My writing buddies.

  4. Nancy, thanks so much for sharing your routine–I’m also working on a non-fiction pb. And appreciated hearing how another writer goes about it.

    • You’re welcome! I’m so excited you’re working on a nf pb, too.

  5. Reblogged this on Why I Write Picture Books? (#YIWritePB) and commented:
    Sharing valuable information

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