Don’t underestimate the time it takes to understand something. This is the key, hidden problem for non-fiction writers.

Let’s say you’re writing a story on how locks work. You may have five books on locks, current periodicals, and an interview with a locksmith stored on your phone. But unless you can tell your reader how key pins and driver pins interact you’ll fail to explain your topic. You need a basic understanding of your subject. And, at least for me, that understanding doesn’t happen automatically after I read or interview. It takes time. And the time I’ll need is never certain.

Right now I am wrestling with a story about a fossil collecting site. To tell it, I’ll have to know something about the Jurassic period and how different kinds of fossils are preserved. It’s become a difficult enough article that I have not written on it for a week. I’m letting my brain work on it in the background while I get more pressing tasks done. I hope my thoughts will coalesce at some point, enabling me to get back to it. But it’s not happening yet.

Reading and research are not enough. Having a good story to tell is not enough. You have to understand your topic well enough to explain it to others. Fiction writers may wait and hope for inspiration. Non-fiction writers hope for understanding.