Improve Your Nonfiction Writing

Whether you write fiction, nonfiction, or both, settling for the first draft never produces your best writing. Consider trying some of these ideas to help you when your nonfiction article needs something, but you aren’t sure what.

  • Determine what you’re really writing about. I told my writing students they should get at least three different articles from whatever it is they were researching. For example, I interviewed a woman who owned an antiquarian bookstore. The three articles I sold from that interview were: (1) Her story as a business person, (2) what types of people bought antiquarian books, and (3) what to look for (condition, edition, etc.) when buying antiquarian books to start a collection.
  • Detach yourself from your writing and consider your reader. Get rid of long sentences, extra words, anything that’s unclear at first reading. Don’t make your reader work to try to figure out what you’re trying to say.
  • Hit the ground running. Your opening paragraph should grab your reader’s attention. You do that by writing in your own voice, creating vivid images, or bringing out an emotion within your reader.
  • Limit your focus. Each article should have a narrow focus or angle. Test your focus by summing up your article in one sentence or by writing a headline that grabs the reader’s (and editor’s) attention.
  • Organize using an outline. One of the most useful outline tools I learned in graduate school is mind mapping. It allows you to insert ideas into your outline without the structure of Roman numerals, numbers, and letters. Google “mind mapping” and consider using it as a tool for you.
  • Show, don’t tell. Yes, I know you’ve heard this before, but it’s worth keeping in mind when you write. Readers visualize images, not written words. Go through your article and highlight the generalities (which are harder to see) in one color and the specifics (which pop up fairly quickly) in another to see how well your writing creates visuals.
  • Remember to communicate with your reader. Writers love words, which is one reason we use so many of them. Readers, on the other hand, want information and how they can use it. Think communication when you write.
  • Describe the personality of your piece. Is it enthusiastic? Authoritative? Challenging? Inspiring? Entertaining? Humorous? OR Is it bland? Argumentative? Superficial? Infuriating? Horrifying? You get to decide which you want it to be.

You don’t have to use all of these ideas on everything you write, but consider which will help you improve your nonfiction writing, then try them. Happy writing!

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2 Responses to Improve Your Nonfiction Writing

  1. Hi Sharron, This post is very timely for me as I’m nearly finished with the first draft of my 2nd book! I’ve been working with a writing coach along the way so it’s in pretty good shape. Are you open to taking a look and letting me know what services you can offer? I was so pleased with your editing of my first book and would love to work with you again. Thanks,Jamie 

    Sent from my Verizon Wireless 4G LTE smartphone

    • Hi Jamie, It’s always good to hear kind words from someone I’ve worked with–thank you. Congratulations on writing your second book. I sent answers to your questions to your business email account and look forward to talking with you soon. Keep writing!

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