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I have boxes of notes, articles and diaries for a biography.  How do I get them into some kind of order? I don't know where to start! Help!

Yea!  One of my favorite topics:  organizing the nonfiction book!  And, boy do I wish I had your problem.  It sounds like you have a wealth of first source material in those diaries!

Here's how I'd start.  First, I'd brainstorm a list of broad topics about the subject.  For instance, if all this material was about Miss Piggy, I'd probably put on my list:  A Puppet's Life, Loving a Frog, breaking into show biz, My puppet master, Life on the Muppets, Stealing cookies from the Cookie Monster, tripping up Big Bird; Practical jokes played on Bert and Ernie.  Notice that none of the above is grammatically correct.  You're brainstorming!  It doesn't have to be grammatically correct!)  At this point I can see a pattern and I note that my list looks suspiciously like a table of contents with chapter names.  That's where you need to start:  with a table of contents.  Having one at this stage doesn't mean you have to stick to it as if it were carved in stone.  You'll add chapter topics and you'll delete some.  But with a list of topics, the fun begins!

On the biggest table in your home, stack up all those notes, articles and diaries.  Use whatever containers you'd like in which to put items as you sort them.  This can be as formal as pendaflex file folders with the tabs printed out on the computer with eact topic, or, twelve to eighteen shoe boxes.  And then pick up one note, one article, or one diary.  Read it and decide which of the topics you'll need the information for to write a complete chapter on that topic.

When all the loose papers are filed neatly away in the pendaflext folders or dumped unceremoniously into the shoe boxes and the table is clear, then you've taken the biggest step towards organizing your material into a book.

Now, pick one of the pendaflex files, or, one of the shoe boxes, and sort the material again.  This time, think of how each piece of research fits the topic and put them in a readable, understandable well-paced order.

The above is what I do.  Every bit of research gets assigned to a chapter and filed in that chapters file.  Then, when I'm ready to write, I just pull one file at a time and work on each one in turn.

Organizing nonfiction research is like that old saw that even a million mile journey starts with a single step.  In our case, even a 60,000 word book starts with one index card.

Hopes this helped, Glinda.  Let me know how you make out with the book.  I'd appreciate your answering the review posted below.  And, please, come back to AllExperts with any more questions!

Liz Aleshire
House of Collectibles Guide to Antique Quilts

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Liz Aleshire


What is a book proposal and why do I need one? Do I need a book proposal for both nonfiction and fiction books? How do I write a book proposal? What are the required components of a book proposal? What is an overview? What is a synopsis? How do I find out what other books are available on my topic so I can make my book different? How do I pitch to an agent/publisher? What's a query letter? What's a 30-second commercial?


I am the author of four nonfiction books: Private Lives of Ministers' Wives (with Rev. Sherry Taylor,New Horizon Press, New Jersey, 1991)and currently working on a second edition; Bugs: Stingers, Suckers, Sweeties, Swingers (a FRanklin Watts Frist Book, Chicago, 1993); The Confident Collector Identification and Price Guid to Quilts (with Kathleen Barach, Avon Books, NY, 1992); and, Official Price Guide to Quilts 2nd edition(with Kathleen Barach, Random House, NY, 2003.) I've taught How to Write the Book Proposal for the past ten years at the week long International Women's Writing Guild annual summer conference, and, at the Manchester Community College Continuing Education program. I've taught in many local continuing education programs in central Connecticut. Five authors have sold books using my methods for writing the book proposal. I have spoken at the Big Apple Conference, an IWWG event held in NYC; both Connecticut chapters of the Romance Writer's of America other writing conferences

Internation Women's Writing Guild, past associate member American Society of Journalists and Authors

Books for New Horizon Press. NJ; Franklin Watts (Now Scolastic)Danbury, CT; Avon Books, NYC; and, Random House, NYC

B.A in Economics from the University of Connecticut

Past/Present clients
Carren Strock, author Married Women Who Love Women; Doris Larson, travel writer, Ohio; MaryLou Streznewsi author Gifted Grownups.

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