Category Archives: Non-fiction writing

Kickstarting Zen Awesomeness

I have a deep and abiding personal respect for James A Owen. He’s a talented and successful author, comic books artist, and business person. He’s always been a good friend to me, giving me unconditional support and encouragement in not only my writing, but also my personal life. He taught me about the power of selling your Eggs Benedict and about the need to push yourself until you are just a little bit scared. His actions frequently remind me of the power of kindness and understanding. Now, he’s the one in need of a little help, and I’m for sure going to answer the call!

When first asked to speak to middle schoolers as part of his book tours, James decided that he didn’t want to talk about his Imaginarium Geographica series. If he was given only one hour to speak to the kids, he wanted to talk about what he thought was important in life. About the cumulative power of choice in our lives, on the need to decide what you want and work for it, and on the idea that it’s never too early to start shaping your destiny. This talk, Drawing out the Dragons, was so successful that he’s been asked to repeat it hundreds of times over the years.

When James realized that he couldn’t reach all of his audience personally, he converted the talk into a book. However, the story and the philosophy weren’t done there. He had more to share. And so, he wrote the Meditation’s trilogy to share his amazing life and philosophy of relentless optimism in the pursuit of one’s destiny.

My first experiences with the trilogy came when I heard James’ Drawing Out the Dragons presentation at the Superstars Writing Seminar back in 2013. I then read the first book, by the same name, and enjoyed it greatly. In fact, it is one of the few books I perpetually keep in my phone. Like everyone else, sometimes I just need someone to tell me that they believe in me and inspire me to keep pushing forward. James does this, both in person and in text.

Right now, James as a few days left in the Kickstarter he is using to turn these powerful books into a beautiful hard cover set. I’m a supporter, and hope that y’all would be willing to consider taking the leap of faith needed to help him complete this awesome project. I promise, you won’t regret it!

DRAWING OUT THE DRAGONS: A Meditation on Art, Destiny and the Power of Choice

“James inspires and motivates both the young and young-at-heart with personal stories that share an important belief: that you can choose to lead an extraordinary life if you will just persevere, stay focused on your goals, and believe in yourself.” —LeVar Burton educator, actor, entrepreneur. Drawing Out the Dragons has the power to uplift, inspire, and change your life, and is the first book in The Meditation s series.

THE BARBIZON DIARIES: A Meditation on Will, Purpose and the Value of Stories

“Mythologies are huge, sweeping things. And the grandest stories are those with the widest arcs of triumph and despair. As much as we may want to, we may not be able to avoid the despair – but triumph is a matter of will.” DRAWING OUT THE DRAGONS was written for everyone, but this book is an advanced course in surviving the Refiner’s fire – because some stories are too important not to share, and some stories are too meaningful to hide.

THE GRAND DESIGN: A Meditation on Creativity, Ambition, and Building a Personal Mythology

This book brings together the ideas from the previous volumes in The Meditations series (Drawing out the Dragons and The Barbizon Diaries) about all of the things I know and believe are most important in choosing to live an extraordinary life. Significance is a choice; and the extraordinary can always be chosen. That’s everything. And that’s all.

Non-Fiction Makes Money and Sense

Non-fiction can be both fun and profitable and November 2015’s posts showed us that and more.

Writing non-fiction, as Brent Nichols noted, can reunite us with our passion to write fiction. Brent also said other cool things like “And how would I communicate that thrill to my readers? By being specific.” For all his pearls of enthusiasm, check out Writing about Writing.

Others also revealed that non-fiction can teach us to be better fiction story tellers. But more about that later…

First, you need to know that yes, you can earn a living writing non-fiction.

Non-fiction to supplement fiction? It does happen and Colette Black shared her experience with finding a subject (which she was most enthusiastic about) and selling it. Collette sums it up best in her article, My Best Sale, when she says “… the numbers add up just fine.”

In Writing How-To’s for Fun and Profit, Guy Anthony de Marco showed us the fun in choosing non-fiction topics. As he said, everyone has something they like to do, and we all have some special knowledge to capitalize on. Guy has masterfully taken his hobbies and interests, even his grandmother’s old recipes, and has produced non-fiction books. Besides giving him a break from writing fiction, it has helped his bank account!

While Guy gave us great ideas on what kind of non-fiction books we could write, I provided some pointers on how to make sure you’ve got the perfect idea, about checking the market for what’s selling, and how to give the idea form. (See How to Write Non-Fiction Books for Profit) But the thing that Guy and I both stress, is that you’ve got to enjoy what you’re writing about. Again, that’s key in both fiction and non-fiction.

Ghost writing can be challenging, fun or frustrating. The challenge is that sometimes you’re dealing with sensitive subject matter, you need to portray the story to both the author’s and publisher’s satisfaction, and the deadlines may be tight. Yet, the results can be tremendous both for you and the person whose story is finally on the page. Evan Braun shared his ghost writing experiences with us in My Brief Career as a Ghost Writer.

In Writing for Magazines and Newspapers, Jace Killan shared a secret niche for non-fiction writing, and that’s newspapers, magazines and online articles. Oftentimes, these articles are used to supplement or give credibility to advertisements. Check it out.

Are you a mercenary or a freelance non-fiction writer? There is a difference. A mercenary writer is not a freelance writer. It involves writing for pay, no matter the subject. Do you want to be a mercenary writer or a freelancer? Check out Tereasa’s article, The Mercenary Writer, before you decide.

Get rid of fiction’s money woes! Apply for a grant.

Grants can be lucrative sources of funding and you’ll increase your chances of success if you apply the advice I provided in Grants – Money to Write. Grants are to be found on the local, regional, state/provincial and federal levels from governments, businesses or organizations. And, they can be used for research, for writing, for living, for retreats – the options are as varied as the sources. So, don’t be shy, seek them out because they’re there for both emerging and professional writers.

Of course you can write both fiction and non-fiction! You have the talent!

In Learning from Non-Fiction, Billie Milholland provided a valuable perspective on how fiction and non-fiction intermingle in her writing life and how they feed off each other. Writing non-fiction can be stimulating and rewarding and enhance a fiction career.

Still not convinced that you can write non-fiction?

Then reread Adria Laycraft’s article Fictional and Technical Writing – What’s the Difference? While fiction and non-fiction may seem to have very different goals, voice, and content, when it comes time to the actual writing, they’re really not that different. In either case, the writer must elicit the desired emotion from the reader, create a good structure of all the necessary key elements, research subjects thoroughly, and ensure proper word selection all to create the best possible content.

Rather than hiring a ghost writer to tell the family stories or to write the memoir, sometimes you just have to write the non-fiction stories. Follow Frank Morin’s advice – interview the grandparents, write their stories and you’ll give them the best Christmas present ever! Remember also that those personal stories, or some element of them, can inspire a new fiction. Check out How to Distract Grandma from Pestering you for More Grandkids.

Non-fiction is a necessary tool to further your fiction writing career.

Those conniving cover letters! You’ve spent months, even years perfecting that novel and your success in the market place hinges on how you introduce your book and yourself in a cover letter! Fear not! In The Art of the Cover Letter, Kristin Luna demystifies the cover letter by giving us a simple yet effective way to write one.

Oh dear blurb, how shall I blurt thee out? Mary Pletsch knows how! In Blurbs: Baiting Your Hook, Mary explains that a blurb is not a summary. It’s role is to make you read more and Mary’s points make it easy. That’s it for this blurb, go check out the blog if you want to know more!

Whether we write fiction or non-fiction, there is a certain syntax, a voice, we all have that makes our writing genuine. Kim May’s blog Finding Your Voice Through Blogging, reveals her path to finding her voice. Her observation that we write a million words to find our voice makes a lot of sense. As I heard it said, if we try to emulate someone else, then we’ll only ever be second best. Be yourself and you’ll always be number one!

As writers we live and die by the book review. How to tell a good review from a bad one? How to give a good one? A reader and receiver of book reviews, author Jeff Campbell shared what works and doesn’t when it comes to writing book reviews. Sometimes we have to give it and sometimes we have to take it – Batman style. For more on Batman read Batman, Boldness and Book Reviews.

Then, there’s the dreaded interview.

You’ll be interviewed, either in person or by phone or by email. You may even have to conduct one. Understanding the craft of the interview is an important but often over looked form of non-fiction so read An Interview on Interviewing where I interviewed Celeste A. Peters.

Interviewing someone who has conducted countless interviews was daunting but fun! Celeste’s and my greatest challenge was making sure we were on the same page. I had a goal and Celeste had a goal along with a wealth of information to share. That meant I had to do what all interviewers must: understand the subject matter to some degree: know something about Celeste’s work and trust that she’d do a smash up job (and she did); and ask questions that would be fun for her and interesting to readers.

And finally, we had a great example of using non-fiction to promote our fiction when Gregory D. Little, rocket scientist by day and author by night, launched his book Unwilling Souls. This book sounds good – I’ll have to check it out.

I hope you enjoyed non-fiction month and found our posts not only interesting but useful. Happy writing!

Writing About Writing

A guest post by Brent Nichols

(And if you think that’s hard, I had to write about writing about writing)

We write. It’s what we do. Fiction, mostly, and if we’re lucky we have readers. It’s when we don’t have readers, or we want more, that we sometimes have to resort to writing of a different sort.

Fiction comes more or less naturally to me. My head’s full to bursting with imaginary characters, and sometimes I let them out to play on the page. It hardly seems like work, most days. The sense of work comes when I’m doing the other kind of writing. You know, the tedious reality-based kind. Especially when I face the tricky problem of writing about my own writing. But every so often, if I’m lucky, even non-fiction writing – even thorny non-fiction writing about my own fiction – manages not to be work. It even manages to be fun.

bdbfullserialA couple of years ago some entrepreneurs approached me, wanting to feature some of my self-published steampunk fiction on a new website they were launching. I was happy to agree – until they told me they wanted a couple of blog posts to go with it.

Having already sweated through the ordeal of making blurbs for the stories in question, the last thing I wanted to do was write even more about my work. However, being a sucker for direct appeals to my ego (hence my appearance on Fictiorians), I reluctantly agreed.

But what could I tell the average web-browsing reader about my work that would make them keen on picking up my stories?

I decided to write about the reasons I wrote steampunk fiction. Now, there are many reasons I turned my mad keyboarding skills to that particular sub-genre. Laziness in high on the list. Steampunk offers the cool gadgets that make science fiction fun without the tiresome need in most science fiction to be sure your gadgets would actually work. It offers the entertaining trappings of the nineteenth century, but being an alternate history, it spares the efficiency-minded writer all that pesky research. In a world where Queen Victoria commands a flying navy, most anything goes.

Sloth on my part, however, hardly seemed like a selling point to my droves of potential fans. So I dug deeper. I wanted a blog post that came alive for the reader, and I found myself thinking back to a time when I felt that spark myself, that shiver of excitement that came along all unexpected and made me, suddenly and for the first time in years, excited again about writing.

I was floundering in the doldrums of discouragement, the dream of writing like a faded picture of something I could remember being keen about, when I decided to attend the first ever When Words Collide festival. That was where I encountered a call for submissions to Shanghai Steam, an anthology of steampunk/wuxia fiction.

Just like that, my perspective on writing changed. All the eager excitement of my teenage self came flooding back. That call for submissions had two things going for it: It was cool (I mean, come on! Kung Fu action and steampunk? Who can resist that?) and it was specific. There were exact requirements, down to word count and cultural influences. I could stop floundering around and tackle a sparkling world of possibilities with a clear framework to guide me.

This, I realized, was the essence of what I needed for my blog post. Why did I write steampunk? Because it’s so damn cool. And how would I communicate that thrill to my readers? By being specific.

After that, the blog post seemed to write itself. I wrote about nineteenth-century technology, the glory days when the most wonderful machine you could imagine was still accessible to a clever person, something you could take apart and tinker with in your basement. A time when the world was enormous and exotic and full of unmapped corners. And a genre that said, never mind exactly how it actually was. What if? What if, in addition to all the grubby bits, there were airships and walking robots and clockwork birds? What if we took an entire genre and said, never mind that it won’t quite pass a rigorous historical or scientific examination? It’s marginally plausible and it’s cool, and that’s justification enough.

We don’t have Barsoom anymore. We lost Tarzan, too. We know too much about Mars and Africa and the universe for those grand adventures to survive. But we have steampunk, and it’s awesome.

That’s how you write about your writing. You look past all the details you’ve been buried in. You dig deep and look for that buried gem of excitement that got you started on the story in the first place. If you can communicate your excitement, readers will be excited to read what you created.

I sent the blog post off, and then I forgot all about the blog and the website. I was too busy to give it another thought. Because the post had the same effect on me that I wanted it to have on every reader – it made me want to drop everything and go read some steampunk.

 
Brent Nichols is a science fiction and fantasy writer, book cover designer, andBrent Nichols man about town. He likes good beer, bad puns, high adventure, and low comedy. A native Calgarian, he is a member of the Imaginative Fiction Writers Association and is the author of the War of the Necromancer series of sword and sorcery novels (available at a fine ebook retailer near you). See his book cover designs at www.coolseriescovers.com or visit his website atwww.steampunch.com.

How Writing Non-Fiction Improves Your Fiction

20121014_134802This month we’ve been reading about story in non-fiction and how we can make money from it, and we’ve even got some tricks and tips to write non-fiction. So today, let’s do a something different.

Let’s apply a little of what we’ve learned so far.

First, read a piece of non-fiction. This can be a newspaper or magazine article on a subject or a news story, the blurb on a book’s back jacket, or an advertising article. Now, answer the following questions:

  • Do the first lines draw me in?
  • Is the article boring or interesting? What makes it so?
  • What is my emotional response to the article – happy, sad, excited, bored out of my skull, interested (want to read more)?
  • Is the conclusion satisfying?
  • Do the accompanying artwork and photographs enhance or detract the piece? How?
  • Is the title captivating? Informative? Does it have too much detail or not enough? Is it too long?

smokeyEvery article or story must capture the reader’s attention by creating interest. The title and first lines are critical as are any photographs or art work. This is no different in fiction. Title, first lines and book jacket artwork are what intrigues a potential reader to buy your book.

The hook, the ability to draw the reader in emotionally, whether to solve a problem, or tell a story as with news reporting, is what sells newspapers and magazines, gets people subscribe to blogs, read and reading information based advertising.

All the things we’ve talked about, the hook, the title, telling a good story, emotional impact – are story elements that are told without a strongly embellished plot, sometimes without a plot, sometimes without a protagonist (unless it’s an interview, memoir, or article about a specific person), without dialogue, without world building – without many things we use to create fiction, yet good non-fiction can captivate and move us just as much.

So now that we understand how the tactics of fiction and non-fiction writing are similar, let’s answer the question the title asked: How does non-fiction writing improve my fiction stories?

untitledNon-fiction can improve our fiction writing because through it we learn to tell a story about elements we normally take for granted in our world building. It increases our observational skills, our ability to impart aspects of life we may normally consider mundane in a way that is interesting. Making the ordinary interesting, finding the story in the non-fiction aspects of our worlds, all of this adds depth to our story and enhances our characters interactions with their world. Non-fiction also teaches us to write to our target audience and to express that information in an informative yet entertaining way.

So read non-fiction, even try your hand at writing it, and watch your fiction blossom.