How To Begin Writing Non-Fiction?

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DanielSTJ

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Are essays the best starting point? I realize it's a long journey to embark on, but I really think I would enjoy doing so. I'm going to have a lot of time during the upcoming school year. Does anyone have any tips, articles or guidelines?

Please share your .02c! I've searched the forum, but I didn't see any threads quite about this.
 

veinglory

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I guess it depends on your goals, but you can start wherever. I have written different kinds of non-fiction at different times and they interact in weird ways or maybe not at all. IMHO it is best to just start writing the kind of non-fiction you want to keep writing. However, essays are, in my opinion, one of the hardest forms to get published as a new name. But if you have specialist knowledge or expertise or a strong style (e.g. humor) that may not be true.
 

Siri Kirpal

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What do you know and what are you interested in? Those are the key to writing nonfiction, IME.

Essays are easiest to sell if you've already got a name for the writing about the topic.

Blogging, maybe? Most nonfiction books are sold on the proposal (overview, bio, chapter summaries, promotion and marketing, comp titles, sample chapters). But you could write a book about something that interests you and then try to sell it to a niche publisher. That's what I did for both of my books.

Blessings,

Siri Kirpal
 

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Essays are okay. As are any article for any non-fiction magazine or blog. Your local newspaper is often a great place to start. Write about a new local business and why they are opening in your area.

The rest kind of depends on your expertise and your goals. If you've been building robots for the military, writing about robots is a natural. If you've been building robots as a hobby, writing about robots is still a natural. Do you live on a farm, own a cat, drive a vehicle, live near a mountain/beach/volcano/silver mine or what? There's always something you know, and there's always a market for good writing. Match them up.

Jeff
 

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What sort of nonfiction? History, memoir, science, etc. are all very different animals.
 

DanielSTJ

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Hi Ryan! :welcome:

Um.... that is a good question.

List:

Academic Papers (to me this still sounds fun! :) )
Articles
Book Reviews
Creative Non-Fiction
Essays
Letters (as in: to the editor and so forth)

I want to start working on building the skills to eventually seek publishing. However, that is MUCH further down the line. I'm looking to build the tool-box and need a starting point-- to be brief.

Any suggestions my man? :)
 

veinglory

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It seems to me that you need to think about your main goals because non-fiction is not a homogeneous skill any more than fiction is. I have written over 60 peer-reviewed academic articles so far each discipline of academia is a rarefied specific skill. This is distinct from articles which in turn share little in common between pagan recipes versus technical papers (to draw a few examples from my CV). I have written few essays but some very profitable whitepapers and a textbook. A dozen of so paid reviews (few opportunities left in that area these days).

I mention all of this just to back up my point that my different non-fiction works have less in common with each other than some of them have from my fiction. I have written them under different names so some did not even appear on the same platform. So in order to really have a plan you need to know the goal.

If it is to seek publication of some specific type a direct path is often best rather than some idea of an incremental approach. I wrote a book for Wiley-Blackwell by simply proposing it to them following their online guidelines.
 
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Siri Kirpal

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Letters to the editor don't usually get paid and don't add to the platform. But hey, if you want to do them...

Blessings,

Siri Kirpal
 

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I think it's for you to decide what you like and know the most. Most of NF requires knowledge about a particular subject.
 

Lakey

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Academic Papers (to me this still sounds fun! :) )
Articles
Book Reviews
Creative Non-Fiction
Essays
Letters (as in: to the editor and so forth)

I want to start working on building the skills to eventually seek publishing. However, that is MUCH further down the line. I'm looking to build the tool-box and need a starting point-- to be brief.

Daniel, I would say that the starting point for any of these is really the same as the starting point for learning to write fiction - of whatever you want to write, read a lot of it and write a lot of it.

For instance, I built my minor career in film criticism by watching films and writing about them. I started off with a little blog, and when I look at the reviews I wrote early on I cringe at them, because I knew very little about my subject (Indian film) and very little about the craft of writing film reviews. But over the years I watched and watched and wrote and wrote and read and read and read. I read reviews by my peers and friends, and reviews by great critics like Pauline Kael, Anthony Lane, Roger Ebert, Baradwaj Rangan, Jai Arjun Singh, Raja Sen, and many others both great and not-so-great. And I got better at it, a lot better. Eventually I built a following for my own reviews and I landed a semi-regular column in an Indian news magazine, where I wrote critical essays about the movies - essays I am damned proud of, to be honest.

But the process wasn't any different from the process of learning to write fiction. Pick something that interests you, and write and read and write and read.

I know you like to read - have you read or written many book reviews? You might start there. (I haven't written much about Indian films since I started trying to write fiction - just not enough hours in the day for me to do both - but I do write book reviews, because the critical analyst in me never shuts up. I publish them on Goodreads - nothing fancy; I don't know if people even read them - but it keeps my chops up, somewhat.)
 
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Daniel, I would say that the starting point for any of these is really the same as the starting point for learning to write fiction - of whatever you want to write, read a lot of it and write a lot of it.

For instance, I built my minor career in film criticism by watching films and writing about them. I started off with a little blog, and when I look at the reviews I wrote early on I cringe at them, because I knew very little about my subject (Indian film) and very little about the craft of writing film reviews. But over the years I watched and watched and read and read and read. I read reviews by my peers and friends, and reviews by great critics like Pauline Kael, Anthony Lane, Roger Ebert, Baradwaj Rangan, Jai Arjun Singh, Raja Sen, and many others both great and not-so-great. And I got better at it, a lot better. Eventually I built a following for my own reviews and I landed a semi-regular column in an Indian news magazine, where I wrote critical essays about the movies - essays I am damned proud of, to be honest.

But the process wasn't any different from the process of learning to write fiction. Pick something that interests you, and write and read and write and read.

This is how you start. Blogging isn't a bad idea, but the goal is to practice your craft and determine what kind of non-fiction and about what subject(s) you want to write.

Like all writing, it involves writing a lot, revising a lot, and reading a lot.
 

DanielSTJ

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Thanks everyone! This is some solid advice. Thank you! :D

Can I add you on Goodreads Lakey? I post little book reviews, but they aren't long or complex. Looking to refine my technique. Surprisingly, some people have liked a few of mine.
 

Irene Eng

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Have something to say ...

Or a story to tell, then the 'writing' part comes easy

Good luck to you and to myself
 

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I write nonfiction. I blog about my abusive background and how it impacted my life. I focus on how I faced my problems and am getting better. One important key in selling anything is to problem solve. What problems can you solve that benefits people? I am a recovering alcoholic, so I write about how I became an addict, how I behaved and how I overcame my drinking problem. Sober for over 11 years now, facing problem areas to get through them is what I focus on. The "how" is what I detail.
 

WeaselFire

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Research the hell out of your topic. Write an outline. Write a synopsis. Write a few sample chapters. Send it off. Non-fiction is sold before it's written, unlike fiction, where the reverse is true.

It's really that simple.

Jeff
 

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Are essays the best starting point? I realize it's a long journey to embark on, but I really think I would enjoy doing so. I'm going to have a lot of time during the upcoming school year. Does anyone have any tips, articles or guidelines?

Please share your .02c! I've searched the forum, but I didn't see any threads quite about this.

I can't really tell you how to get where you want to go, I can just share my experiences. I got started by working for a local small town newspaper doing weekly news stories. I got paid 25 dollars a week to find the story, interview someone, take photos, write it up, and submit it to the editor. When the story got published, sometimes weeks later, I got paid. If you're still in school and looking to get started maybe there is a local newspaper or magazine that is looking for freelance work. It can be great experience even though it might not pay much. Or anything. Does your school have a school newspaper or monthly magazine? If so they might be looking for writers.
 

LisaJansen

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OK, realising I might be a bit late to the party here but just thought I'd share my experience in case anyone is still interested in this topic. I started with my own blog. Then I started writing for a local magazine and also managed to get some articles into other publications and websites. Some of these blogs and articles are related to what my book is about and others are not. But at some stage, I just realised I had this idea for a book. So I sat down and mapped it all out on post-it notes, did a lot of research and then started writing. Kind of sounds a lot easier than it was when I put it like this, haha.
Anyway, I signed a publishing deal for my first book earlier this year so I must have done something right.
I am writing a blog about my journey going from idea to published book so if you're keen to read more about how I got started, check out this post: https://lisa-jansen.com/first-time-author-blog/1-from-idea-to-first-words
 

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