11 Techniques to Improve Your Nonfiction Writing
Whether you’re working on your first book or you’re a seasoned professional with a string of bestsellers to your name, writing nonfiction presents a unique set of challenges and obstacles. Here is a complete guide to the nonfiction writing process that can be applied no matter your experience or ability:
- Work on narrative structure. Rather than writing a simple chronological narrative, consider starting in the middle of your action to hook your reader and increase dramatic tension. Playing around with time frame and structure can also help you subvert your readers’ expectations and craft a more compelling narrative.
- Hone your voice. Don’t panic if you feel like your writing lacks a concrete voice, especially if you’re still new to the world of nonfiction. Developing your writer’s voice takes time and experience. One way to improve is to read as much nonfiction as you can get your hands on. You’ll start to identify styles and subject matter that appeal to you and fit with your sensibilities. You can also focus on writing about the material you have an existing familiarity with in order to better access a natural, candid voice.
- Play with point of view. It is easy to structure all nonfiction pieces from the same point of view, be it third-person or first-person. Push yourself to play around with different points of view when you’re writing creative nonfiction, but do it in a way that makes sense. Don’t change the point of view in the middle of the scene, for example. Consider how different points of view can better serve a creative nonfiction piece, and play around with them in the editing process to breathe fresh life into your writing.
- Focus on details. So much of the effectiveness of your nonfiction writing depends upon your attention to detail. Whether you are a first-time writer working on a memoir or a celebrated author putting the finishing touches on a potential bestseller, remember to include the small details that make your nonfiction writing sing. Including sensory details can help establish setting and place as well as aid in character development. Try not to l lean on clichés and well-established tropes in place of specific details, especially when you are in a rush. Do an editing pass specifically looking for places that you can make your nonfiction writing more specific and rich with details.
- Write tight scenes. Think of structuring your nonfiction stories like a fiction novel, with a plot arc and a clear beginning, middle, and end. It’s easy for a nonfiction writer to lose a sense of drama and urgency, especially when you are focused on relaying the proper, chronological narrative and important facts. If you think of the key moments in your narrative and approach those scenes as if they were in a novel or play, it can make your story come alive and help hook your readers’ attention.
- Mine your life. Use your personal story or collection of life experiences as a source of inspiration. Oftentimes your personal history can produce a compelling narrative populated with real people from your own life.
- Develop a schedule. Most writers find that having a set writing schedule with blocks of time devoted to personal projects helps them stay on task and keep up with their personal and professional writing responsibilities.
- Keep an idea archive. Starting to brainstorm a book idea from scratch can be a daunting process. Always have a journal or diary on hand to record ideas that may occur unexpectedly. Remember that being a good writer means being a keen observer. In addition to carrying a notebook, keep a centralized file or archive where you can store and back up creative ideas. This way, you always have a place to turn to when you are brainstorming ideas or dealing with writer’s block.
- Always learn. Nonfiction writers are never done learning. Seek out classes or higher education programs that can help improve your writing. Whether you take a free workshop at a community center or enroll in an established MFA program, taking classes can expose you to good writing techniques and introduce you to other writers to collaborate with.
- Improve your prose. Developing a unique and dynamic prose style in your creative nonfiction writing is a great way to avoid writing stale and static factual accounts without personality or perspective. Play with different techniques, like alliteration, to vary your sentence structure and inject a bit of variety into your prose.
- Practice self-editing. The editing process is arguably the most important step in book writing. As a writer, it’s essential that you become good at editing and rewriting your first draft and any subsequent drafts. Developing a keen eye for typos and overwriting can help you write a marketable creative nonfiction piece that appears professional and tight.
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