What I’ve Learned About Writing Non-Fiction

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Last week I mentioned that this summer I’m introducing a new mini-series in which I’ll be sharing about some things I’ve learned over the last year. My first post in this series pertains to something near and dear to my heart: writing. Enjoy!

Non-Fiction Writing

I have always been interested in creative writing. Nothing excites me more than delving into imaginary worlds I have created. In recent years, I have begun to read more non-fiction books than ever. I’m not really sure why, other than I found a few that sparked my interests and it simply took off from there.

Since then, I’ve been fascinated by the idea of doing my own non-fiction writing. This spring, I took an introductory course on how to write a non-fiction book just for the fun of it, and I learned so much about the craft.

Here are the biggest things I learned…

Genres of Non-Fiction

…there’s more than one. Genres of non-fiction include: culture, politics, religion and spirituality, inspiration, self-help, and entertainment. Entertainment includes most of what I would traditionally think of when I hear the word non-fiction: personal experiences, biographies, autobiographies and memoirs, and travel. Since I write a literary and lifestyle blog, it will come as no surprise that I was, and am, most interested in writing under the culture category.

You Must Have an Objective

…otherwise what’s the point? When you’re forming your idea of what your non-fiction book should be about, it’s important to think about what your objective is. Are you going to educate your readers? Entertain them? Persuade them? Inspire or help them? I instantly began leaning towards the inspiring and helping objective.

An important part of determining your objective is figuring out who your audience is going to be. You might think that a non-fiction book will have as broad an appeal as a fiction book, but this is not the case. It’s entirely likely that you will have one narrow audience. Determining what that audience looks like is up to you; gender, age groups and demographics, etc. It’s not something agents or publishers will be able to help you out with. You have to know your audience and your objective from the beginning.

Structure is Key

The way you structure your book is incredibly important. Structures range from logical sequence, basic-to-complex, categories, two-part, chronological, and storytelling, or even sometimes take a combined structure approach and contain a little of each. Structure will likely depend on the genre of non-fiction you choose to write. For example, if your non-fiction book is an autobiography, you’ll likely be taking the chronological structure route.

* * *

One of the things that stood out to me most in this class was learning that you have a significantly better chance of getting your non-fiction book published than you do your fiction book. First-time authors are actually more likely to publish their non-fiction works than fiction. This isn’t to say that you are 100% guaranteed to get your book published. However, you can (possibly) get a contract to have your non-fiction book published with just a proposal and sample chapter, and not even having finished the entire book. That’s super encouraging for new authors!

Overall, this class was super informative and really got me thinking about the kind of non-fiction book I’d like to write someday. I learned so much about the process from beginning to end, and thanks to the endless notes I took, I will have a lot of great information to look back on when that time comes.

4 thoughts on “What I’ve Learned About Writing Non-Fiction

  1. One of my favorite college classes was a creative non-fiction writing course. I was disappointed at first since I enjoy writing fiction, but it helped me hone my writing more than I would have thought possible. Personally, I liked writing short stories and poems–they were pretty fun. One author I’m particularly fond of is Brian Doyle–his short essay ‘Joyas Voladoras’ is lovely.

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