Posted by: nancyisanders | May 12, 2014

Nonfiction Picture Book in One Week: Monday

Day 1 Research HPIM8181

When I post things on my blog, I often work one week ahead. For example, I wrote my nonfiction picture book in one week LAST week. That’s so I could test the calendar and iron out all the glitches first. AND it’s so I could actually focus on writing a nonfiction picture book all in one week.

So now this week I’m going to post each day here on my blog to show you the steps to take as you follow along on my calendar to meet your goal of writing a nonfiction picture book in just 5 days.

Plus, as an added bonus, I’ll actually share the hour by hour schedule I kept. That’s because when I was teaching a couple of weeks ago at the Orange County Christian Writers Conference, a bunch of writers asked me what I actually do all day, hour by hour. So I thought I’d share this with you, too!

7:30 a.m.: I set up my research center.

8:10: I sat in my comfortable chair with a stack of research books and my spiral notebook to take down notes. Since I’d never researched my topic before, I was looking for a sweeping overview of my topic that I wanted to cover in the plot chart for my book from beginning to end. I started by reading briefly through my one big research book on my topic and then turned to the children’s books on my topic because those are the best sources to help determine key plot points and highlights of a topic.

As you can see by this photo below, my writing buddies (Sandman on the left and Pitterpat on the right) joined me on the couch to help me do my research…not!

Day 1 writing buddiesHPIM8184

9:00: After nearly an hour of research, I got out my blank plot chart and tried to fill in the 3 key changes plus what was going to happen in the beginning, the first half of the middle, the second half of the middle, and the end.

I still wasn’t too confident on my topic, but I tried to fill it in as best as I could.

When you’re working on a tight time frame, it’s all about making quick decisions. So go ahead and fill in the chart with ideas that come to you from the research you just did. This doesn’t have to be permanent. It’s just to get you pointed in the right direction.

By 9:30, my first writing session was done for the day. I was ready for breakfast. So I took a break. During my break, I kept my thoughts on my project. I still wasn’t sure about how to narrow my topic, so I thought about this.

Plus, so far on my plot sheet, I didn’t have a PROBLEM. All I had was a series of events. And a series of events isn’t a story. I needed some kind of a problem.

And I also didn’t have an idea for an ending in mind. I wanted an inspirational ending.

So as I took my break, my brain kept working. When you take your breaks this week, let your brain keep working, too. You’ll be surprised at the things that will pop up.

I call this the “bees in the beehive.” While you’re off doing other tasks such as cooking breakfast, the bees are still in their beehive working to make honey. And then suddenly, a new idea will pop into your head…it’s because those bees have been working all this time to give you something sweet for your story!

Sure enough, I was able to think of a historically accurate “problem” my main character could have. I planned to introduce this right in the beginning section of the book.

11:00: I started my second writing session. This time I spent my hour researching the Internet. I googled my topic and looked specifically for PRIMARY SOURCES. Primary sources are so essential because I can just quote one source without looking for 3 to back up a fact I state. I found diaries and maps. Plus, I looked in the back of my research books for their footnotes and endnotes and found primary sources they listed there, so I looked those up on the Internet and found some, too.

I started my bibliography early so I could keep track of the sources I found. Plus I printed out all this information and started a new file folder to keep my Internet research in.

Then I read my mentor text.

12:15: I created an outline of my nonfiction picture book using the handy chart I like to use.

The Beginning
The Middle
The End

1:00 Lunch break. During my lunch break I planned on how to do my research for my beginning. I knew this was coming up in the next session so I wanted to be prepared.

2:00 I read the beginning of my mentor text. Then I spent time researching.
3:00 I wrote the first draft of the beginning of my manuscript. No, it wasn’t perfect. But it was something. That’s all you need to get started.
4:15 Break
4:35-5:00 I added footnotes to what I just wrote so I wouldn’t forget where I had researched which fact I stated. I put these footnotes at the bottom of each page (not as endnotes…that would be my sidebars eventually).

Whew! It was a full day. But already I was feel equipped to write this book because I had spent so many hours in research. Yes, I felt overwhelmed with it all, but I also felt very excited.

I hope your day is very, very productive. And I hope that the research you do today helps you on your journey to write this book!


  1. Thanks for the schedule. This is amazing as always. Great post πŸ˜€

    • You’re welcome! Hope this helps.

      • It does….I just found your post on ABC books from 2008. I am writing an ABC book for this project. I am so excited. There is nothing like what I am doing on the market so I think this will be a new approach to an old concept. Wish me luck.

      • Oh I love ABC books! But they take a unique plot structure. Glad you found the post on ABC books…they’ll show you some of the unique qualifications of this genre. And best wishes on your project…sounds exciting!

      • Thanks, Nancy πŸ˜€

  2. Hi Nancy, I just wanted to pop in to say that I’m participating in this challenge with a biography. I’m a teensy bit behind in researching, but I do not believe any books have been written about this person. Trying to find primary sourcing now. :0)

    • Glad to have you on board, Donna! And that does make it tricky when nothing has been written about someone. Hoping for the best as you delve into the research and dig for gold! And FYI, even though I’m writing about a landmark in American history, I decided to focus on the biography of a little-known person associated with that landmark. So to fill in the gaps of lack of research on my person, I featured info about the landmark that was also part of her life. Perhaps you can fill in with research on a place or event that was closely associated with your person as well. Just a thought.

      • Thanks, Nancy, that’s a good idea. She was a big philanthropist, which was what intrigued me, and helped many well-known institutions. I’m having a bit of trouble on the approach, but I’ll keep plugging along! :0)

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