Writing Nonfiction

Growing up, I constantly had stories going. In my bedroom with a pastel, wallpaper border separating violet and white walls, I typed up exactly two McConnaha News newspapers, featuring such stellar stories as “Maggie gets her first bra” and “Crash!” When the ribbon ran out I upgraded to an old computer that was not hooked up to the internet but still had Microsoft Word running. And Solitaire.

Almost all of the characters in my stories were based on myself and the friends I had. Characters with our personalities but different names (I didn’t want to be obvious) went on adventures like getting shipwrecked on island off the coast of Washington State for about ten years, the kicker being that the boat they were on was essentially a re-enactment steamer from the late 1800s. Can you tell I loved Laura Ingalls Wilder? Oh, and all the characters end up married and having babies before leaving the island.

I always thought that like my favorite characters, Laura Ingalls, Anne Shirley, and more, I would grow up to write novels. I carried this with me through high school and my early years of college, writing down short ideas on scraps of paper or in a notebook. Along the way, my persistence with fiction completely gave over to a love of research and nonfiction writing. I try to write articles as often as I can, I have a full nonfiction book project in the works, and several other ideas for either research articles or short editorials. I love skimming through Reference and Works Cited pages, requesting and reading the different journals, and then working the evidence into my own texts. “Square,” I can hear my dad saying.

Fiction and nonfiction feel like completely different processes of writing, with pros and cons to each. In fiction, the world is open but those possibilities can be so overwhelming that you never move past the second chapter. Nonfiction, on the other hand is constraining – even when writing creative nonfiction – with little room for imagination. Each type takes a large amount of research and dedication to a specific topic — dedication I found difficult to cultivate when I was younger.

When writing narrative or creative nonfiction, as my book project is, research takes up the bulk of the time. I have to conduct an interview with each person I hope to feature, and then spend time typing up every word they say in the interview after. All in all, that takes about three times the length of the actual interview with all the pausing and the starting again. So if you are planning to write a nonfiction piece based on interviews, save lots of time to transcribe.

The actual writing piece moves quickly, and it’s really fun to see how different themes and stories interact with one another – even if they happened at different times or in different places. I’m looking forward to sharing more about the project as time goes on. Look for more consistent blogs (ideally two per week) and an upcoming Facebook page this fall. By typing it out, I’m holding myself accountable to actually do it.

Marketing a book is way less fun than writing it.

While I write this blog, I’ve just finished typing up an interview that lasted about an hour and a half. My fingers ache, and I’m going to head off to Target to find some new classroom materials. I’m way too excited about poster putty and sticky notes.


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