On the Nonfiction Book Writing Process: Part Two

For anyone who thinks that writing fiction or creative nonfiction or personal essay is more creative than non-fiction, I’ve got news for you. Writing non-fiction is equally as creative, perhaps just in different ways.

Structuring a nonfiction book is extremely exciting. What, you don’t believe me? Is it because someone told you that writing a nonfiction book is about creating an outline and then following it? I wonder how far I’d get reading a book like that. Probably not very far. I mean, where’s the surprise? Where’s the adventure?

And certainly a book may start out that way, but I bet not many end up that way…by the time their editor gets done with them. Unless of course a lot of care and creativity have gone into the outline.

Here I am two weeks out from my deadline, when a recommended book from my editor at Writer’s Digest has completely changed my perspective about the structure of sections two and three of my book.

Am I upset? No. I’m glad. Tremendously glad. Because I could feel that what was working in section one was not working in sections two and three and I had to abandon the idea that they would be written in a similar way.

This is all part of the adventure of sculpting a nonfiction book. There’s my rhythm in writing it, but there is also the rhythm or “shape” (as we called it in graduate school) of the story. And even in nonfiction, there is a story. And certainly, since I’m trained in nonfiction, I tend to write nonfiction that has a story, even while I’m writing instructional how-to.

Of course, my hope is that by caring so much about the shape of the story that all my efforts will translate into a better book. A more readable book. A more helpful book. The kind of book a reader want to read in one fell swoop.

For me writing really is a lot more like chiseling away until I find the shape underneath. Allowing thoughtful input. Being willing to follow my instincts. Staying focused on the reader. And staying with it until it’s the best book I can write.

I’m generally a pretty slow writer, though I have my moments. I have friends in the biz who can easily write three or four times as fast as me. But I trust and enjoy my process as slow and sometimes surprising as it is.

I know that the renewed excitement I feel translates on the page. And it’s important for all writers to find that kind of upbeat in their writing because the reader can feel it too.

Happy writing, mamas!

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1 Response to “On the Nonfiction Book Writing Process: Part Two”


  1. 1 Alyson Hill February 5, 2008 at 11:54 pm

    You betcha! Seeing as non-fiction is so topic oriented, one of the biggest problems I had was finding different ways to describe the verbs and nouns inherent to my topic and therefore at LEAST as difficult as writing a lovemaking scene in a bodice ripping romance. It amuses me now looking back, but trying to find different ways of saying chicken poo was doing my head in at the time.


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