[Podcast] How to Develop a Creative Idea for Your Nonfiction Book

3 honing the writing craft podcast post Apr 12, 2024
[Podcast] How to Develop a Creative Idea for Your Nonfiction Book

About a decade ago, Dr. Henning Beck, a neuroscientist, bestselling author and former Hertie PhD scholar at the Graduate School of Cellular & Molecular Neuroscience in Tübingen, Germany, presented a Ted Talk on the essence of an idea.

He opens the talk with these two provocative statements:

  • “You can measure data, but you can’t measure an idea.”
  • “You can Google information, but you can’t Google an idea.”

The challenge for writers of nonfiction books is first and foremost developing a good idea. Too often writers mistake information for an idea. Information isn’t an idea. An idea is an author’s unique take on information.

And they might think they have an idea, but how can they measure if it’s a good one?

If you want to write a book that influences the world, you need to start with a creative idea. Great ideas form the essence of great books.

If you’re struggling with developing a creative idea for your nonfiction book, here are strategies to help you develop your book idea.

What Is an Idea?

An idea refers to a concept, theme, or central point that serves as the foundation for a piece of writing. From single essays to long-form blogs to full-length books, an idea is necessary for all forms of writing.

However, this definition can be vague. What exactly is an idea? We already established, it isn’t information. For nonfiction books, the main idea is the thesis, the main point or argument you’re trying to make.

A thesis is broken into two parts: a subject and a complement. The subject is the topic you’re writing about. The complement is what you are saying about the topic you’re writing about.

Many writers think their book’s idea or thesis is the subject. It’s not. The complement is your idea. It’s your unique take on a topic.

Still confused? Let’s look at an example.

Say I want to write an article about the reintroduction of gray wolves. This is my subject: the reintroduction of gray wolves. However, this is a broad topic. I need to be more specific. This is where the complement comes into play.

To be more specific, my article will argue against the reintroduction of gray wolves to Colorado because of the negative impact reintroduction will have on recently revitalized elk herds. This is my complement. I took the subject (gray wolf reintroduction) and I am arguing against it based on my research’s findings. The complement provides focus and specificity to my article.

Return to your nonfiction book idea. What is the topic you’re writing about (the subject)? It could be about family business succession planning, or career transitions, or leadership as an entrepreneur. Now, what are you saying about the topic (the complement)? What is your unique take? Write down every option you can think of.

Once you have your subject and complement outlined, you might be thinking, My idea is too narrow. Too confined. What do I do?

It might seem counterproductive but a narrow book idea means you’re on the right track. Here’s why.

Why Your Nonfiction Book Idea Needs to be Specific

Specificity is key to a strong book idea. It helps you focus your message and content, making your book’s content more compelling and engaging for your target audience.

Also, a focused book idea allows you to explore your topic in depth. You can provide your readers with insights and perspectives that a broad or vague concept might not achieve.

Finally, a narrow book idea will help you differentiate your work in a crowded marketplace. It allows you to carve out a unique niche and attract readers who are specifically interested in your topic. This can lead to a more loyal and engaged audience.

Being specific does not mean being exclusive. A specific book idea can still resonate with a wide range of readers, so long as your content is well-written, engaging, and relevant. By targeting a specific audience, you can more effectively tailor your marketing efforts to readers who are most likely to appreciate and share your work.

Remember: General writing is uninteresting. It lacks depth, voice, detail, and originality.

As you develop a creative idea for your nonfiction book, be specific. Take the time to research your topic in depth. This will lead to a narrow book idea that will keep your content focused and engaging.

Once you have your book idea, how do you develop it?

How to Develop Your Book Idea

The idea serves as the foundation and guiding vision for your book. It encapsulates the theme, message, and purpose of your writing. And yet so many writers struggle with developing their idea.

Here are three ways you can develop your book idea.

1. Explain an Idea

The first way to develop your book idea is through explanation: by breaking down the idea’s complexity into smaller parts.

Say you’re writing about the impact of mental health issues within a family. This topic that can be broken down into explanations on: how mental health issues don’t exist in just an individual; the interconnected nature of individuals within a family system; and, the consequences of ignoring mental health concerns. By breaking down this complicated topic, the author provides clarity on the topic.

Some popular ways to explain an idea: clarify concepts, explore reasons behind behaviors, outline potential outcomes of a situation.

2. Prove an Idea

The second way to develop your book idea is by proving your idea—proving your argument or stance or take on a subject. To prove your idea means providing evidence and examples to support your thesis.

Statistics, case studies, expert opinions, and historical references are the most popular forms of evidence to prove your idea. For example, say your book idea argues that a plant-based diet leads to improved health. To prove your idea, you could present historical examples of civilizations that thrived on such diets.

Personal experiences are also powerful tools for proving an idea. Stories collected through years of observation and interpretation can provide valuable insights and add a personal touch to your argument.

3. Apply an Idea

The final way to develop your book idea is by applying your idea.

Applying your idea means demonstrating its practical implications.

For example, in a book about breaking homeostasis thinking in family businesses, you could provide examples of family businesses that have created flexible structures to support individual growth. These examples would show readers how they can apply the principles outlined in the book to their own lives.

To apply your idea, use stories, solutions, or frameworks to illustrate how your idea can be implemented in real-life situations.

If you’re still struggling with developing a creative idea for your nonfiction book, listen to the podcast episode. You’ll come away with additional tips and strategies that will help you develop your idea more fully.



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