Writing Tips from a Nonfiction Writer

I write nonfiction.  Don’t ask me to write a novel or any kind of fictional piece.  I couldn’t do it if Stephen King handed me a manuscript, stood over me, grabbed my fingers and began typing.

I also write humor. If I take a tidbit of truth and stretch it, pull it, or squish it, it becomes another animal altogether, which isn’t nonfiction, but that’s not my point here.

You might say that humor and nonfiction are polar opposites, unless it’s humorous creative nonfiction, which is my favorite genre.  Believe it or not, fiction, nonfiction and humor have a lot in common.

Writing nonfiction, creative nonfiction and humor require the same qualities as great fiction, it should be well written and flowing in a direction that takes the reader to a logical destination without them knowing they’ve been highjacked.

Nonfiction doesn’t have to be boring, or in sequential order.  However, it requires a working knowledge of English, few passive verbs, pertinent facts, great quotes, and a lack of clichés, in a concise, coherent writing style, with lots of hot coffee.

Sometimes when I’m writing a humor piece, I use regional phrases and accented words, like “darlin’, and “Well, shut my mouth”, but it would be inappropriate for an article on nuclear fission, unless it’s Southern nuclear fission.   Look professional and choose the right writing style.

The same thing is said for clichés.  Whoever coined the phrase “think out of the box” was innovative and descriptive.  After the millionth time, it became a cliché and there are better ways to utilize the English language.  Your goal should be to create the perfect phase that becomes cliché, so we can avoid it.

In Japanese, there is only one word to describe delicious food, “Oishi”.  It doesn’t matter if it is for a meat or dessert, that’s the only word to use.  However, if you were to list all the words to describe delicious food in English, you might come up with ten, fifteen words or more.  Try it, and make your writing, “delicious.”

When I write a magazine or newspaper article, I must be mindful of the word count.  Sometimes there is a space limitation, or the publisher is paying me by the word; he’s always counting his pennies.  Bottom line, be concise, choose your words wisely, and edit, edit, edit so that his pennies become your dollars.

A shortcut that may help is using “TK.  It means, “To Come”, or used to fill in a space for the right word later on.  I use it when the writing stalls and I need to move on, or I’ve had a little too much coffee; it holds my place.

Need more direction?  Check out Jim Romenesko’s blog about words in writing from the Washington Post’s Outlook section.   http://jimromenesko.com/2013/03/20/washington-posts-outlook-bans-these-words-and-phrases/ and

http://jimromenesko.com/2013/03/22/the-story-behind-washington-posts-things-we-do-not-say- list/.

Hoppy Writing.

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3 Responses to Writing Tips from a Nonfiction Writer

  1. Beth Browne says:

    You rock, Helen!!

  2. Helen, this was concise, humorous, without cliche … and well, obviously you know your stuff! :-) Hoppy writing to you too!

  3. Torie Dale says:

    Great Info and well written, Helen.

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