Here is the second installment of my notes from the CCMWG's Write Direction conference earlier this month.
Mary Horner is a multi-published, award-winning writer and college teacher who gave a thoughtful and informative session on “Writing Nonfiction.”
Here are some of the notes I jotted down during Mary's presentation:
Nonfiction is based on someone's truth. It is factual but can also be emotional. Variety is what makes writing nonfiction wonderful.
* Give editors what they want
* Read the publication before submitting
* Approach editors with an idea (2 or 3 are better)
* If it's something you're interested in, that's even better
* Your passion will come through if you care about your topic
* Ask the editor for an idea if your suggested ideas fail
* Submit clean, well organized, and researched copy
* Stay focused; it's more than the writing itself, it's the framework
Possible topics: What do you love? What do you hate? What are your pet peeves?
Make connections to your feelings so your passion comes through.
What do you know?
What do you want to know?
Next comes research (to fill the gap between what you know and want to know)
Mary's three-step process:
Make an outline – gather lots of info
Visit the library – ask research librarians for assistance; they have access to databases not available to writers
Ask experts -- they are usually flattered you ask!
Word of caution: Research can be a time waster so set limits.
Credibility is believability.
Make sure your sources, especially from the Internet, are reliable.
Be sure to cite your research and copy url onto the work-in-progress document for future reference.
Always verify. If in doubt, leave it out.
One of Mary's favorite humorous quotes from the Internet is:
"85% of the quotes on the Internet are made up." (Abe Lincoln)
The framework for your nonfiction should be logical and easy to follow.
The thesis statement basically asks the question: What do I believe to be true?
Don't be afraid to make changes if what you discover during research conflicts with what you think you know.
What is true?
Why do I believe it?
What do I believe about it?
Mary shared this quote, “If there is no discovery for the writer, there is also no discovery for the reader.”
Narrow focus makes the difference.
Mary uses symbols in the margins of her paragraphs to help organize her works in progress.
Editors appreciate it when writers add a little something extra (a sidebar, thoughtful quotes, photographs, or illustrations).
If you would like to learn more about Mary’s thoughts on writing nonfiction, I recommend reading her book, “Strengthen your Nonfiction Writing.”