The 7 Tools You Need To Overcome The Fear Of Writing Non-Fiction

Hey there! Glad you guys are here. This post is one I thoroughly enjoyed writing. Hope you guys enjoy!

Whenever I ask other writers what genre they prefer when given the choice between fiction and non-fiction, they always seem to choose fiction, without hesitation. I wonder why this is. The realm of fiction allows one to explore their imagination and create a world much different than reality. Writers who write fiction look forward to forming these creations which could be described as ‘escaping the mundane realities of the world we live in,’ at least how I like to describe it.

I love both fiction & non-fiction, but I always preferred non-fiction. My love for non-fiction really began when I took a non-fiction workshop during undergrad. The entire semester we studied how to write in this genre and we edited a piece we would present on the final day of class. When I read my piece to the class, I could see the power my words had. I do not recall what exactly I wrote about, but I received applause by both my professor and the other students. That is when I really began writing more pieces about my life and experiences.

Now you must be thinking why someone would want to read about the life or experiences of another if they are not a well-known author or celebrity and even then, the material may be uninteresting or boring. If you look at my blog, you will quickly realize that most of the pieces I have submitted are creative non-fiction. Here is why. I have dealt with certain traumas in my life and writing about them allows me to heal, to forgive, and to find peace. When I write non-fiction, I enjoy bringing light to issues people may not necessarily think of.

I wanted to give you all the inside scoop on how to tackle this genre without fear. Buckle up because you are in for an interesting ride.

Writers tend to think unless they have dealt with a severe trauma or have an experience others would want to read about, you have no reason to write in this genre. You are wrong. It is like that saying, if you write, you are a writer. You do not need that stamp of approval from being published to claim you are a writer. Same applies for non-fiction. You can literally take any topic or experience from your life and create something worth reading. The thing that requires the most time for me is determining the topic and how I want to approach it. But once I have the topic, it is quite easy for me to begin writing. Below I will highlight some helpful tips to get you started.

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  • #1: Choose a topic to write about. When writing non-fiction, you have to write your story in such a way that even if the reader has the slightest doubt in their mind they would not relate to your work, you have to give them a reason to. Not to be cliché here but think of writing a piece about a horrible break-up you endured. This probably would not be something I would write, but I am merely using it as an example. This is a general topic an audience would gravitate to because 9 times out of 10, other people have endured this as well. You must evoke some sort of emotion and allow the reader to relate to you in some way, shape, or form.

  • #2: Next step I usually do is make list. I list everything associated with that topic. The main idea, how I felt, what I saw, what I heard, what I smelled, what I touched, who was involved, the outcome, so on and so forth.

  • #3: Next step once you have your topic picked out and your list made is to decide which perspective you want to tackle. Most of my pieces are told in 1st person which most people assume is what writing non-fiction entails. However, I like to experiment with other POV’s. For instance, I wrote a piece about an illness my cousin was diagnosed with. To properly tell the story, I interviewed several people to get all the information I needed. I interviewed my cousin, her mother, her father, her grandmother, and I included my POV. Each person told their part of the story. However, other pieces I have written have been stories about my life but told in 3rd person. ‘She felt this, she did that.,’ etc. Writing non-fiction should not mean rejecting certain aspects of writing. If anything, non-fiction can offer you the same amount of flexibility if you have the right tools.

  • #4: Writing a piece of non-fiction can also allow you the opportunity to fill in some blanks with a made-up scenario. So, going back to that break-up example. Let us say you wanted to write about your brother’s break-up with his girlfriend and how it led him down a rabbit hole. If he did not provide you with the information, you can do with this as you will. You knew the topic would be about the break-up and your brother’s depression. However, you could be creative by forming your own reasoning for their separation by filling in the blanks of what you think happened. I read an article once in my ‘how to write non-fiction,’ course textbook from college. A professor had written about the same things I am currently writing about. He said, you are not always going to have the facts or information you need for each aspect of your work. This is when you take the information you do have and put your own spin on it.

  • #5: Non-fiction requires lots of ‘show don’t tell.’ It is quite simple for writers to get wrapped up in a description of how the character felt. However, these are the opportunities when writers must really allow readers to put themselves in the main character’s shoes. ‘Show’ them what happened on that day your dad finally left the house and your mom struggled to make ends meet. ‘Show’ them the look on your grandmother’s face as she laid in the hospital bed clinging to her last breath. You get the idea. I do not want to get too depressing here.

  • #6: As I mentioned previously, evoking emotion is the most important thing you can do. Whether you are aiming to make your readers understand your pain, or your happiness, or the overwhelming feeling you encountered when you took a full course load of college classes, emotion is the driving force for this genre, in my opinion.  

  • #7: I believe writing non-fiction is like layering a sandwich. Now hold on. You probably think I sound crazy but hear me out. The first slice of bread is your opening, your one shot at drawing in the readers. I have asked several writers and most of the responses were the same. “I don’t like reading non-fiction because I don’t enjoy reading about someone else’s experiences.” My first response to that would be, if you are a true writer, you read when you are not writing, and you read anything and everything to learn as much as you can. I think to improve in writing fiction, one should also read non-fiction. The middle of the piece is the most important, layering on the ham and cheese, etc. This is the core of the piece when readers want to know what the MC endured and why, etc. That last slice of bread seals the deal. You want to close out the piece leaving the readers either wanting more or scratching their heads asking questions. I am that type of writer who will draw you in with a great opening and leave you unstable with the last line I write. I want to make sure my readers know what I am feeling. This is my strategy.

Writers tend to think non-fiction is daunting and they do not enjoy it. But I believe if writers took the chance to understand what it takes to write in this genre, if you’re just willing to put in the time and give it a chance, you can learn to enjoy writing it.

There is not much to it. This is my process and I hope this post really sheds some light on how overlooked this genre is. If I can inspire more writers to consider writing in this genre, I will feel extremely accomplished.

As always, feel free to comment on this post, email me: msdakotawrites@gmail.com, or tweet me @msdakotawrites on twitter. I always love to hear how this post has helped you or any other feedback you wish to provide.

Until next time,

Dakota 😊

One thought on “The 7 Tools You Need To Overcome The Fear Of Writing Non-Fiction

  1. adultingwithpam

    What a lovely post, Ms Dakota !!
    I am guilty of being scared to venture to the non-fiction realm for SUCH a long time. Learning how much fun it really is !
    This post is very important and I’m happy you’re encouraging writers to share their stories! People have so many stories – they SHOULD be shared 🙂 !!

    Liked by 1 person

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