5 Things to Remember When Writing a Nonfiction Book

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Unless your goal is to write a scholarly textbook, you don’t want your nonfiction book to read like one. Here are five ways to write nonfiction that grabs and keeps your readers’ attention.

1. Get Personal. Engage readers by making your message about them.

Ask questions: Isn’t is frustrating when . . .?

Interject some humor: Short people unite! God only lets things grow until they’re perfect. Some of us didn’t take as long as others.

Include relatable stories about your own life. But be careful. Unless you’re writing a memoir keep your message centered on your readers.

2. Be Creative. Consider writing narrative nonfiction—nonfiction that reads like fiction. Bill O’Reilly’s “Killing” series is an excellent example.

(Lincoln) paces the upper deck of the steamboat River Queen, his face lit now and again by distant artillery. The night air smells of the early spring, damp with a hint of floral fragrance.—From “Killing Lincoln” by Bill O’Reilly.

imagesYou could also write an informative book that is mostly memoir. For example in my book, An Issue of Blood, Facing Uterine Cancer With Faith, I combine memoir, factual information, and biblical history to keep my readers engaged.

Keep it real. Don’t change facts. Concentrate on adding imagery, emotion, and personality.

3. Say it Simply. Everyone hates instruction manuals saturated with confusing terms and diagrams.

keep it simpleKeep facts and figures simple.

Cut out unnecessary words.

Use lists.

Connect readers with facts using phrases like, “Did you know. . . ?” Or weave the facts into a narrative sentence or paragraph: “Imagine living in a fully functional house that is just under 500 square feet.”

Avoid unfamiliar words and technical terms. If you must use them define them simply.

4. Write With Authority. Check your facts against multiple sources and make absolutely sure they are correct. Never connect facts with words and phrases like:

“In my opinion”

“I believe”

“I think”

“Maybe”

Write in a confident but friendly voice.

5. Know Your Message

 “Every successful piece of nonfiction should leave the reader with one provocative thought that he or she didn’t have before. Not two thoughts, or five—just one.”
—William Zinsser On Writing Well

 Think about your goal.

Do you want to persuade your readers to take action?

Is your purpose to inform?

To explain how to do something?

To entertain?

Before you write know your purpose, then write with that one purpose in mind.

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Strange Writing Habits of 10 Famous Authors

hemingway-desk-600x906Do you have a writing ritual? I do. I write every day from eight until noon, and I must have coffee—not just any old coffee, but hot lattes in cold months and iced coffee in summer. I guess my writing habits are conventional when compared to these famous authors:

Ernest Hemingway (A Farewell to Arms, The Old Man and the Sea) got up at dawn every morning and wrote standing up until he emptied his head. After all that thinking, he needed to drink and hang out with his six-toed cat, Snow White.

Truman Capote (Breakfast at Tiffany’s, In Cold Blood) said he couldn’t think straight unless he was lying down drinking coffee. When morning shifted to afternoon, Capote set aside the coffee and sipped mint tea. Later in the afternoon, he switched to sherry and then martinis.

Honoré de Balzac  (Cromwell, La Comédie Humaine) enjoyed marathon writing sessions aided by many cups of black coffee—an average of 50 cups a day! While on a coffee high, he wrote for 48 hours straight.

Victor Hugo (Les Misérables, The Hunchback of Notre-Dame), when faced with a deadline, practiced the odd habit of writing in the nude to assure that he wouldn’t leave the house. He locked away his clothes and wore only a large, gray shawl.

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Edith Wharton re-imagined by Annie Leibovitz in the pages of Vogue.

Edith Wharton (Ethan Frome, The Age of Innocence) had a queenly way of writing. She wrote in bed, surrounded by her little dogs. After she wrote on a sheet of paper, she dropped it on the floor, and servants picked up and organized the sheets.

Henry Miller (Tropic of Cancer, Black Spring) followed 11 rules that he set for himself.
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Alexandre Dumas (The Three Musketeers, The Count of Monte Cristo)  color-coded his writing: blue for his fiction novels, pink for non-fiction or articles and yellow for poetry.

Neil Simon (Barefoot in the Park, The Odd Couple) has a habit of rewarding himself for completing a difficult scene with a bag of Fritos.

Aaron Sorkin (The West Wing) acts out his screenplay dialogues in front of the mirror. He once became so intense while acting that he accidentally head-butted the mirror and broke his nose!

and, finally

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Dan Brown (The Da Vinci Code, Inferno) likes to hang upside down in antigravity boots. Inversion therapy, he says, helps him to relax and let go. When writing, Brown uses an hourglass to track time. Every hour he stops writing and does a few pushups, sit-ups and stretches.

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“Buzz Off, Roald Dahl!” What You Don’t Know About Three Famous Children’s Book Authors

madelineLudwig Bemelmans shot and almost killed a waiter.
Ludwig Bemelmans, author/illustrator of the Madeline book series, failed in school and was so rebellious that his family kicked him out and sent him to work in hotels owned by his uncle in Italy. When Bemelmans was sixteen, he supposedly shot and almost killed a waiter. He was spared prison and given the choice between reform school or emigration to America. He chose America. Bemelmans became a naturalized citizen, served in the U.S. Army, and eventually owned a restaurant. In 1934, when Bemelmans was 36, a friend who worked in publishing saw some whimsical paintings that Bemelmans had created and suggested that Bemelmans write and illustrate a children’s book—the rest is history.
Read more about Bemelmans . . .

2280830Beatrix Potter told Roald Dahl to “buzz off”.
As a young child, Roald Dahl loved Beatrix Potter’s books. In fact, at age six Dahl was, perhaps, Potter’s biggest fan. He persuaded his mother to take him to Potter’s home in northern England, so he could see where she lived.

Not long before Dahl died, Brough Girling, founder and director of Readathon, a campaign to get more children reading, interviewed Dahl and asked about books he had read as a youngster and his influences. On Roald Dahl Day in 2008, Girling shared what Dahl had said about Potter:

“He told me he went with his mum when he was six. He asked if he could go and see where she lived. So they went up to the Lake District.

“He came to the farmyard and recognized it, which made him very nervous. In Jemima Puddle-Duck the farmyard was actually Beatrix Potter’s farmyard and he recognized that.

“He said it was like stepping into a page of one of his favorite books.

“Then he saw Beatrix Potter, this old woman in her garden. And she said to him, ‘What do you want?’

“He said, ‘I’ve come to meet Beatrix Potter’ and she said ‘Well, you’ve seen her. Now buzz off!’

“His wife said it’s actually true. Roald had told her. And it’s true Beatrix Potter was quite grumpy and not fond of children. He would have been six and she would have been about 80.”

Read more . . .

Dr-Seuss-and-creationsDr. Suess, Theodore Geisel was afraid of children.
Geisel never had children of his own, and he was uncomfortable being around kids. He rarely did book signings or wanted to meet the children who loved The Cat in the Hat and his other books. When interviewed and asked whether he had children, Geisel answered, “You have ‘em; I’ll amuse ‘em.”

After his death, Geisel’s widow said that he didn’t just dislike children—he was afraid of them. When he was around kids, Geisel fretted about what they might do or ask. “I don’t think spending your days surrounded by kids is necessary to write the kind of books I write,” he said. “I don’t write for children, I write for people.”

Read more . . .

You might also enjoy this video,
“47 Charming Facts About Children’s Books”

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