Monday, October 27, 2014

More Notes from CCMWG's Write Direction Conference: Writing Nonfiction with Mary Horner

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.

According to Mary, the secret of selling nonfiction is:

* 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.

Ask yourself:
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.


9 comments:

  1. This was great stuff! I've done some non-fiction but it is stressful for me.I'm so afraid of doing a fact or quote wrong...to write a "mistake". Writing fiction seems easier because no one can tell me what I write is not true...I make it all up!

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  2. Donna--You did a wonderful job of summing up Mary's great presentation. I'm so glad I went and I'm so glad I chose her session. Thanks for reminding me of the points she made.

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  3. I never thought to pitch two to three ideas at a time. I must broaden my focus. This is a great tip. Thanks for recapping.

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  4. I was fortunate to attend Mary's workshop and purchase her book! Great recap and thanks for sharing.

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  5. Thanks so much for the wonderful information, Donna. Mary has some very helpful tips, and I appreciate both of you sharing them.

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  6. Hi Val,
    That quote got a big laugh.

    Hi Sioux,
    It was great to see you there.

    Hi Linda,
    Thanks. I agree it is a great tip.

    Hi Lynn,
    Thanks. It was great to see you there!

    Hi Theresa,
    You are welcome. Mary is a wealth of knowledge.

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