Unlike being engaged or voting in a primary, writers don’t have to choose just one. In fact, writing fiction can well equip one to write nonfiction. On the flip side, writing fiction can give nonfiction writers freer rein with their creativity.
Since there are so many of us fiction writers, let’s examine other benefits of writing true books. Nonfiction success can counteract the many rejections of one’s fiction. In Anatomy of Nonfiction: Writing True Stories for Children, Peggy Thomas states you are eight times more likely to be published in nonfiction than fiction. That means 1/8th the rejection letters, 1/8th the pity parties, and 8 times the confidence in one’s abilities! That confidence can help sustain the fiction writer who persists in the bruising submission process.
Bonus--you get a head start with nonfiction. According to biographer Jean Fritz, “[Writing nonfiction] is not a matter of coaxing up a story, but of perceiving the story line that’s already there.” If you're one who delves into your imaginary characters so deeply that you know their secrets, their songs, and all their uncles, then you are a natural for researching real facts about real people. Instead of plumbing your imagination, you will search through resources that are both interesting and addictive. And unlike fiction, you will have experts, librarians, and enthusiasts who will eagerly help you on your quest.
From Peggy Thomas: “Nonfiction is a simple beast, really. In its most basic form it consists of a skeleton of accurate information, the flesh and blood of story, the heart of the writer, and the muscle of marketing.” If you write fiction, you already have three of these four tools in your toolbox.
Peggy continues, “Your job as a nonfiction writer is to raise your antenna and tune in to the true
stories that exist around you.” Unlike rubbing the genie lamp of imagination, hoping a story will wispily appear, the writer of true stories has merely to practice alertness to find things to write about—even topics already on the shelf. “A subject may have been written about, but not by you—not with your ideas, and not from your perspective.”
When you write fiction, you do your research between your own two ears. Since nonfiction happens here on our planet, lots of evidence and details are readily available. There are primary sources like journals, legal records, manuals, and letters. There are museums and restored habitations, aquariums, zoos, galleries, newspaper morgues, recordings, and online resources. These provide settings, characters, dialogue, and problems that you don’t have to imagine. And there are passionate experts only too willing to help you flesh out or vet your stories.
So you don’t have to choose. You can do both. If you write nonfiction, or are considering it, I have two suggestions:
1. Read Peggy Thomas’s Anatomy of Nonfiction. I read every page while working on my first biography. I credit her inspiration and practical techniques for its acceptance by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt for publication in 2016.
2. Participate in the NF 4 NF Nonfiction for Children’s Writers Conference on October 9 – 12. Peggy Thomas will present three of the 16 sessions and offers critiques. Peggy’s sessions include “The Heart and Voice of Your Story”, “Research Techniques That Get to the Facts”, and “Biographies: Making Friends with Strangers”. Be sure to bring your copy of Anatomy of Nonfiction to be autographed.
Learn more about the stellar faculty, the schedule, location, and social events at the site. Register today—Early Bird rate ends September 1.