What is Prescriptive Non-Fiction?

The question, what is prescriptive non-fiction, isn’t the only question I received at a recent workshop I taught called Is It Time to Write Your Book. However, it’s one I have also asked so I thought it was an excellent topic to cover.

What is Prescriptive Non-Fiction

When I first started planning my book I thought there were two choices: fiction or non-fiction. But deciding on non-fiction is just the first step.

I outlined this a bit when I explained how word count changes based on book genre. Here is the TL;DR version.

Non-Fiction Genres

  • Devotional
  • Self-Help
  • Memoir
  • Narrative Non-Fiction
  • Biography
  • Prescriptive/How-To

And yes, there are more genres within non-fiction (personal development, practical non-fiction, general non-fiction). But that’s another topic for another day.

What is Prescriptive Non-Fiction?

Prescriptive non-fiction books are known as being strong topical guides or instructional how-to books. They help readers accomplish something or acquire a new skill.

Here are a few examples.

From these titles you know what you’re getting. First you’ll learn how to walk in high heels, then how to get great book reviews and finally how to write a first draft in 30 days.

What does it take to write prescriptive non-fiction?

In order to write a prescriptive non-fiction book the author has to know and understand the topic at a deep level. Deeper than the people who are learning the topic. An expert, if you will. Another option, if the author is not an expert, is to curate interviews with experts and compile the information into a book.

Writing prescriptive non-fiction is a good option if you’re looking to write something but you don’t have an idea yet. Because chances are you’re an expert about something. Think about what you know a lot about, what you have interest in and what you think you could spend a lot of time talking about without getting bored. The more specific you can get, the better.

Everyone is an expert in something so writing prescriptive non-fiction is a good option if you're looking to write something but you don't have an idea yet.

If you’re looking for a challenge, read Nina Amir’s How to Blog a Prescriptive Nonfiction Book in 30 Days. Of course you’ll need a tight writing schedule to accomplish that but I know you’re up for it.

How to Find Great Freelance Writing Jobs

When you’re a new freelancer, finding freelance writing jobs may seem like an overwhelming task. And I understand how finding a gig—any gig—can feel a bit like luck. Where do you even start looking? And when you find someone looking for a writer, how do you know the job is any good?

freelance writing jobs

The good news and the bad news about online freelance writing jobs

OK, here it is. The good news is, when you Google “freelance writing jobs” you’ll find a lot of postings. The bad news is, when you you’ll also find a lot of low-paying postings and straight up bad gigs. Learning to tell the difference is an important part about finding success as a freelance writer. Finding gigs that pay what you need is another important part.

How to discern a good freelance writing job from a bad one

The first thing to keep in mind is “good” and “bad” gigs are subjective. You need to know ahead of time what kind of job you’re looking for and what type of client will suit your needs. If you’re new to the freelance world you may not know this yet and will learn through trial and error. That’s OK! But take a few minutes to think about the types of freelance writing jobs you’d like to have. Writing blog posts and articles? Media releases? Business profiles? Journalism? Think it through and write it down.

After you know what type of writing you want to do take a few minutes to figure out who your ideal client is. Are you looking for someone who is hands off? Someone to collaborate with? Do you want to be able to meet in person? And do you want one-off clients or ones you have an ongoing relationship with? There are no wrong answers here, just what’s right for you. Knowing what types of clients you’d like will help you avoid overwhelm as you comb through the vast array of freelance writing jobs out there. It will also keep you from applying for gigs that aren’t a good fit for you.

One more tip: keep a close eye on how the job postings are written. If you see phrases like “looking for hungry writers,” or a value attributed to the quantity of articles they’re looking for rather than quality of writing, these should trigger warning bells in your head. These gigs are often low paying (pennies per word, if that) and demanding. Even if you don’t have much experience yet, you can do better.

How to figure out what you need to earn as a freelance writer

Even though many writers aren’t numbers people, it’s important to learn how to budget so you know how much income you need in order to reach your goals. Do a bit of number crunching and determine what you need per month to get by. Also figure out how much time you have to dedicate to your freelancing. From here you’ll have a good idea of how many clients you can take on and how much you need from each one.

If you’re wondering how to set your prices, check out my free 15-minute course on how to price your work. Setting your prices takes a bit of effort but it will help you stay away from jobs that don’t pay enough.

When you look at online postings you may feel like you have to lower your prices or standards in order to get work. Don’t give up! There are great freelance writing jobs out there but sometimes you have to know where to look.

Where I look for great freelance writing jobs

I encourage writers to think outside of the box when looking for work. Even when you need to get clients fast you shouldn’t lower your standards. The main ways I find work are from referrals, networking with other writers and Twitter (really!). There’s always someone looking for a writer but people have to know you’re a writer in order for them to think of you and reach out.

Job boards are a great starting point for freelancers who don’t have established networks. The good gigs are scooped up quick so if this is your go-to then you will need to check often and apply a lot. It’s a numbers game so don’t become discouraged if you don’t hear back from many or most of the places you pitch.

Here are a few suggestions for job boards I’ve found good.

One more tip: I’ve learned it’s important to keep looking for freelance work even if you have a full client load. Developing strategies to keep the marketing machine going during busy times ensures you won’t have so many dry spells. And the better your clients are, the less you’ll need in order to reach your financial goals.

When you are a new freelancer, finding freelance writing jobs may seem like an overwhelming task. And I get how finding a gig can feel a bit like luck.

Finding Keywords SEO Tips for Writers

At some point in your writing career you’ll be asked about finding keywords or SEO (search engine optimization). SEO is a marketing skill, which writers may or may not have. I say it’s a good idea to become acquainted with the concept as it will make you more valuable to your clients.

Keywords SEO Tips

Finding Keywords for SEO

Most freelance writers spend time researching different topics online, which is good news because finding keywords involves the same skill: research. And, in fact, there’s a good chance you’re doing keyword research as part of your regular workflow. Brainstorming writing ideas, building content calendars or working on branding all involve some aspect of SEO.

This can be as simple or complex as you make it. I like to keep things simple.

SEO Tips

  1. Answer questions your audience is asking

    Think about the audience you serve and the types of questions they’re asking. Then take those questions and answer them. If you take the time to figure out what questions your target audience, customer or reader is asking, the more you increase your chance of them finding your answers. It’s amazing stuff.

    If you don’t know what questions are being asked browse through forums and Facebook groups. These are a gold mine when doing customer research. And if that fails, talk to some real people. Find out what they’re confused about and try and help clarify.

  2. Figure out three or four main topics for your website

    If you’ve done any type of editorial planning then you understand how this is done. If not, think about the main themes or categories of the product or service you’re writing about. Then break those main ideas down into smaller topic ideas or sub-categories. Continue breaking the ideas down into smaller and smaller ideas until you’re as focused as possible. You now have a HUGE amount of on-topic keywords to build articles and content around.

  3. And my favourite keyword hack

  4. Look at what others in your industry/niche are writing about

    Browse their websites and see what topics they’re addressing. Is there anything missing? Can you offer more information about one of those topics on your site? Can you go deeper on any of these themes? See what your competitors are doing and improve on it.

    If you don’t know who your competitors are you can open up an incognito browser and Google your theme or topic. See who ranks in the top (not counting ads) and check out the articles. Ask these same questions and see how you can improve on what’s already ranking well in search.

One last tip: Tech Tools

If you’re stumped for ideas online tools like Wordstream’s Keyword Tool or Google Trends will help you brainstorm ideas. They will also give you a good indication of how many people are searching for the term so you don’t waste your time answering questions no one is asking.

A few years ago my website was quite random and unfocused. I spent a lot of time writing about whatever struck my fancy and not much time wondering what people would like to read. One day I realized I was ranking as the number four search in Google for “DIY Chocolate Bubble Bath.” I thought that was pretty great until I realized I have no interest in the topic, offer no services or products on that topic and no one ever actually searches for that topic. Oops.


The closer your keywords are to the actual topics you cover and services you offer the better your SEO ranking will be. Part of your website’s value comes from how long people spend on your site. If you show up in search and people click on your link only for them to leave a second later, this tells Google the search result wasn’t relevant to the user and over time your ranking will go down until it disappears altogether.

There is a bit of a learning curve to figuring out keywords and SEO but if you keep it simple and think about what your audience is searching for online, you’re on your way to optimizing your writing.

At some point in your writing career you'll be asked about finding keywords or SEO (search engine optimization). To be clear, SEO is a marketing skill, which writers may or may not have. So you're off the hook there. That said, it's a good idea to become acquainted with the concept as it will make you more valuable to your clients.

How to Brainstorm Ideas for Writing

Before I got into the habit of writing and publishing on a schedule I couldn’t figure out how to brainstorm ideas. It was pretty hard in fact, to the point where I felt regular terror when I sat down to write.

Brainstorm ideas

The blank page would stare at me, judging. Sometimes there would be so much pressure I would crumple under it, give up and watch television instead. And after enough time of that happening I would skip the pretending to write part altogether and go straight to television.

But this didn’t make me feel good about myself so after allowing the self-pity to continue for an awkward amount of time I pulled up my socks and learned how to brainstorm ideas for writing. And I’m pleased to say it’s something you can do too.

How to Brainstorm Ideas for Writing

This is a little exercise I picked up over the years and since making it work for me I have never sat down wondering what to write. Writing is no longer a terrifying experience but something I look forward to and find pleasure in. I hope my brainstorm ideas and/or method helps you.

First, you need to know who your ideal reader is. This may seem like a strange step for brainstorming ideas for writing but trust me, this is a key step. Even if it’s a loose definition, think about the person (real or fictional) who would most be interested in reading your work.

Answer these questions

  • What does your ideal reader tend to focus on?
  • On social media, what does your ideal reader like sharing about?
  • From what you can gather, what is your ideal reader most need/want/desire?

Once you know the answers to those initial questions answer this one: what problem are you solving for your ideal reader through your writing?

Through thinking about your ideal reader you should have a few words and phrases jotted down. Take a look and add a few more words to the page. This time, write down everything you’d like to write about one day. It can be vague or specific, long or short. Just jot down as much as you can think of in a five-minute period.

Look at the list you came up with and compare it to your first oneā€”are you seeing any good brainstorming ideas? Are you seeing some common threads? Find four topics that match both what you want to write about and what your ideal reader is struggling with. Once you find four, write them down.

This last step is the most fun

Decide how much you’re going to write and break down your topics into sub-categories. For example, if I have four main topics and I decide I want to write one blog post per week, then I need 52 sub-categories. That is around 13 ideas per topic. While this seems like a lot I don’t need more than a word or short phrase at this point. I’ll list a few of my brainstorm ideas for the next few blog posts below as an example of what I mean.

But what if you can’t think of sub-categories? Or what if you have a few ideas but can’t get to 13? Here are a few suggestions for finding topic ideas.

Brainstorm ideas for coming up with sub-categories

  • Pay attention to questions people ask you. If you hear a question you think your ideal reader would ask, write it down
  • If you’re in any online networking groups, take a look around and see the types of questions being asked and the conversations happening. Again, if you see something your ideal reader might be interested in, write it down
  • Go through your emails and see what types of topics the people you follow are addressing. Anything interesting in there? Is there a new angle or spin you can put on the topic and to help your ideal reader in some way?
  • Pick a topic from your list of “I’d like to write about this one day” ideas. Maybe it’s not a top four topic but it might make a perfect sub-category!

If you try these ideas and are still super stuck, here’s a helpful seven-step method to come up with brainstorm ideas fast.

This is the main way I come up with brainstorm ideas whenever I’m working on something new. I’ll condense the steps here for a quick reminder.

Steps for finding brainstorm ideas

  1. First, I put myself in the shoes of my ideal reader and think about what s/he would like to read
  2. Second, I write a quick list of everything I’m interested in writing about one day
  3. Third, I compare the first two lists and see where they intersect. I look for four main topics from this process
  4. Fourth, I brainstorm sub-categories to fit under the four main topics by looking at what people are already asking about, by watching what other people are talking about and by writing about things I think my ideal reader will resonate with

Have you tried this method before? I’d love to compare notes!

Before I got into the habit of writing and publishing on a schedule I couldn't figure out how to brainstorm ideas. Sitting down to write became terrifying.

Other articles on this subject

How to Create a Writing Schedule | 3 Steps

When you’re ready to write a book and you know the genre and how many words it will be, your next step is to create a writing schedule.

Create a Writing Schedule

A lot of people skip this step and launch into writing their book. And I get it, you’re enthusiastic. You want to dive right in. Whee! But if you are serious about finishing your book (not just starting) then take a minute to create a writing schedule. You won’t regret it.

I’m skipping past a couple important pieces of the book writing process, researching and outlining. Make sure you also build in time for this but know it’s not part of the book writing part—it’s extra.

How to create a writing schedule

When you create a writing schedule you’re building a strategy to ensure writing becomes integrated into your lifestyle so you reach your larger goals. This strategy prepares you for days you don’t feel like writing or for illness or for whatever else life throws at you.

Step one: decide when you want to complete your first draft. Your first draft won’t be your final product, but getting this first draft done is one of the biggest steps in the book-writing process. Pick a specific date and write it down.

Step two: Figure out how many words per day you can write. You’ll hear about people who can write thousands of words per day and expect you can do the same. Don’t assume. The average amount of words you can write per day or in one sitting is different for everyone so learn what works best for you and build your schedule around it. Once you know this number, write it down.

Step three: Build a realistic writing schedule. To write a book you need blocks of focused time. How much do you have available? What do you need to put in place to protect it? When you make time to write in your day-to-day schedule there’s a much better chance of it happening. So make time. Block it out in your calendar. Put it in your schedule. Say you’re unavailable during writing time. And make sure it’s sustainable so you stick with it.

Want these tips for yourself? Download the printable below.

Once you have your end date, your average daily word count and your writing schedule decided it’s time to work backwards. Start with the end in mind and break up your book into monthly, then weekly, then daily goals. Build in time for the unexpected—remember, we’re working with reality here and life happens even when we’re writing a book.

By taking time to create a writing schedule you change your internal dialogue from “Someday I’ll write a book,” to “By THIS DATE I’ll write a book.” That’s a huge difference. And by breaking down this massive project into small, daily steps, it won’t be so overwhelming. Each day you’ll sit at your writing station with purpose and you’ll write. And by your deadline, if you’ve planned it well, you’ll finish your book.

By taking time to create a writing schedule you change your internal dialogue from "Someday I'll write a book," to "By THIS DATE I'll write a book." That's a huge difference.

Create strategies so you stick to your schedule. There will be days you don’t feel like writing. Find ways to write anyway.

This training is part of the Writer’s Breakfast Workshops happening October 13 and October 27, 2018. Join in!