Monday, February 24, 2014

Writing 101: Can You Write Non-Fiction?

So you want to write a bestseller, right? Want to do a book signing in public? Have fans? Maybe even appear on one of those talk shows? Look at the statistics and pay attention to what sells, and you'll see that the non-fiction market is (always) booming. So here's what you need to figure out: can you write non-fiction?


Real vs. Imagined

Because I can't...not really, anyway. This is sort of a shame, since in my day job I'm required to write non-fiction for many hours on end. Lately I have been getting a lot of feedback about the need to incorporate myself more into these articles, add personal anecdotes and whatnot. I've written, at some length, about my great inability to actually do this.



I'm pretty good at researching topics, because formerly I wrote historical novels so facts have to be pretty solid in that genre. I can add a few jokes, here and there. And I can present information in a clear way, sometimes even complex stuff. But I can't get personal easily. Sometimes I can't do it at all. I have the ability to write non-fiction. I'm a writer, so I can eke out anything if I'm under enough duress to do so. It's sort of like a veterinarian who can perform people medicine, if there's just no other alternative.

But I can't write non-fiction very well, because I stay so detached from it. In fiction, I can lay my characters bare. I'll reveal the ugliest of thoughts, the darkest of motivations, the euphoria and the pain. I'll show dreams and backgrounds and even wardrobe. Actually lots of times wardrobe. I like fashion.

The point is, not all writers can create really good non-fiction. It's not enough to present the facts in a reasonable and readable way. I've found that it's not even enough to tell jokes. You have to make it personal, for you and the reader. You have to make it intimate, and unique, and all sorts of other things that editors are always telling me to do.

And I'm not great at it, but at least I know that. All writers have strengths and weaknesses. Find what you're good at, what you're not good at, and embrace it. If you've never tried writing non-fiction, you won't know whether or not you're any good at it. So don't just answer the question, really search for it. Finding out who you are as a writer is half the fun of claiming it as your own.

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