I’m a mind reader and that was just me paraphrasing your thoughts. You probably think fiction and nonfiction are on opposite sides of the equator—and I would say you are absolutely correct. They each have different sets of rules, audiences, and goals. One is entertaining and the other informative. One keeps us on the edge of our seats and the other on the edge of our brains. One lifts us into another dimension and the other pushes us down to reality. Pretty much the only thing they have in common is that they both involve using the alphabet.
If you are a fiction writer like me, you may be tempted to skip writing articles on crafting fiction. After all, your top priority is fiction, so why bother with this…er…bland nonfiction stuff that reminds you of those green vegetables your mom forced you to eat when you were a toddler. Your author career will not die from pushing nonfiction off the table, but it does mean you’ll be missing out on a lot of necessary nutrients.
In case you’re not fully convinced that this green stuff is digestible to the writer’s creative mind, here are four vitamins that writing nonfiction (specifically on crafting fiction) supplies for your writerly immune system.
Vitamin A: Accountability
One of the scariest things you will ever face is knowing that someone is reading your story. Did they like it? Did they hate it? Argh, I could pull out my scales just thinking about it! But you know what’s even more frightening? Wondering if you gave readers bad advice.
This is what nonfiction does (the wondering part that is—nonfiction does not necessarily give people bad advice unless the person giving it is an idiot).
For the conscientious writer, every tip offered to readers offers stress to the author. Suppose I told you publishers like it when authors sign all their query letters with a smiley. If you are averagely stupid, you might just believe that information. Then, you might tell it to someone who is less than averagely stupid, and they would believe it too. Before you know it, publishers would be getting a whole slew of emoji-dotted queries from the averagely stupid American public. My advice may set a world record for human gullibility, but soon after the stupid people would discover their gullibility and try to set a record for the fastest house burning (presumably mine), because I gave them misinformation.
Whatever advice we give should be good for the sake of our own health, our house insurance, and the well-being of fellow writers. Writing articles on the writing craft forces us to look to ourselves. Do I really know what I’m doing? It may help us to identify flaws in our own writing and to evaluate our skills. If you find yourself struggling to teach a certain writing principle, chances are you don’t know enough about it yourself.
However, not all writers are equally conscientious—and some aren’t even conscious of it. In that case, accountability must be artificially manufactured. One way to prevent over-cockiness is by checking your advice with another source. If possible, verify the information with two sources (in case one is faulty). Then, pass the piece through some writer colleagues for them to fumigate it from any leftover rotten advice.
Vitamin B: Brains
Have you ever noticed that when you write something down, you are more likely to remember it? Think how much more you’d remember it if, in addition to jotting down notes, you also typed them up, rewrote them, and edited them? I bet even that less-than-averagely stupid person who believed in my smileys would remember the information!
I never forget an article I write, but most importantly, I never forget the principles that I wrote about. In many ways, writing articles on story writing is even better than reading a book about it. When you read a book, you’ll have to spend endless hours highlighting, note-taking (which are probably written so quickly that they aren’t even eligible to be called illegible), and memorizing. But when you write about it, you’ll save time, sharpies, and brain space.
In addition, you may even learn some new things. A professor may teach the same things year after year, but while he’s teaching, he’s always liable to run into some new fact or one he’d forgotten about. When you teach others, you are also teaching yourself. So even if you feel you are not experienced enough to be giving writing tips, try writing an article for yourself—no one else even has to see it.
Vitamin C: Clarity & Creativity
I don’t know about you, but the big picture of my stories shoves everything else into the ditch. We study up on arcs, themes, and structure, leaving style to grow moldy in our cupboards. We think in scenes and people, not in sentences! That’s the most important part of the story, right? But just because it’s the most important, doesn’t mean the other elements aren’t important too.
Nonfiction helps you focus on the sentence rather than the broad level of writing. After all, you have no scenes to distract you. Plus, your sentences must make sense; otherwise the whole article will be a shambles. Unlike fiction, you can’t have subtlety in article writing. You have to make your point clear or else people may be mislead. For example, I may write, “It is entirely unacceptable by most large publishing houses to end a query with an emoji.” That information may be true, but it also sounds like some publishing houses accept emoji queries. In article writing, we must contemplate each sentences’ existence, purpose, and intent to make sure it’s readable and won’t involuntarily offend someone since humans are so easily offendable.
Also, article writing can challenge us to think creatively with our sentences. For stories, a bland writing style may be overlooked if the story is interesting. However, a monotone nonfiction piece will only be overlooked when the readers start snoring (which they undoubtedly will). You have to keep them entertained with the sentence flow or they won’t keep reading.
Vitamin D: Depth
This vitamin D may be last, but it’s certainly not least. In fact, it may very well be the most. All the other vitamins we may be able to skip, but this is one that will give your writing such a boost of health that you’ll want to be writing articles all the time!
When we write fiction exclusively, we may be tempted to blindly grope around without ever asking ourselves why. Why does my character act this way? Why am I cutting this paragraph and not another? Why am I even writing?
Writing articles pushes us to search for answers to questions we may never have asked otherwise. It makes us analyze movies, books, and ourselves to glean concepts. Before I started article writing, most of the time I didn’t know half of why I was writing the way I was. But by sitting down to write about writing, I was forced to think about my reasonings. I dug into the recesses of my mind (which can be pretty scary) and dug out information I would never have known was there. Sure, some of the information stunk, but you know what? That was how I discovered it was rotten and threw it out to make room for correct information. And yes, sometimes I couldn’t find the answers inside myself, but that only prompted me to look around me and find the answers there.
By knowing the reason why, it helped me to sharpen my fiction writing and write more impactful stories than I ever could have done before.
What Nonfiction Should You Write and When Should You Write it?
Trying to figure out what to write about can be harder than trying to hatch a T. Rex out of a chicken egg. You have so much to teach and so much to learn, so how can you pick just one thing? Here are a few questions that may help you find the right topic for you:
- What is one thing you know about more than anything? How did you come to know it?
- What is one aspect of writing you have struggled with?
- What kind of scenes/stories have you been writing lately? Why?
- What genre do you usually write?
- What is one thing you’ve always wanted to know about writing?
- What piece of writing advice have you found pivotal?
- What is one non-writing thing that has indirectly influenced how you write?
- What part of writing do you care about the most and why?
However, figuring out what to write isn’t as difficult as determining when you should write it. Now, when I say when, I don’t mean studying which way the leaves fall to predict the most opportune time to write an article. I mean when are you ready to write an article for others to see? As I already noted, you don’t want to give out bad advice. So how do you know when you’re ready? Here are a few questions to ponder over before sharing your writerly wisdom:
- How many years have you been writing?
- How many books on crafting fiction have you read? Do you regularly read writing magazines or websites?
- Have you had any of your writing critiqued?
- Do you receive correction on your content and style with an eagerness to learn?
- Do you ignore or disregard other writers’ advice and rely more on your own? (This is a big warning flag here. You may be smart, but no one’s that smart.)
- How much do you write?
- Have you had anything published (your own blog excluded)?
Build Up That Nutrition
Nonfiction may not be as fun to read or as fun to write, but it’s a necessary addition to the budding author’s plate. Everything you learn from writing it can help you write fiction that is strong and healthy. My greatest growth* came when I started writing articles regularly.
But even green veggies can be tasty if I drown them in some cheese sauce or sautéd with some seasonings. And I’ve found nonfiction to be fun and entertaining if I apply a little creativity.
*Sizes and acceleration may vary—dinosaurs grow much faster than humans. And no, I did not mean that as an insult.