Writing Nonfiction: What to Include, What to Leave Out

There comes a point in every nonfiction project when you are left looking at all of the amazing facts that did NOT make it into  what you are writing.  “Oh, but that one is so . . . fun . . . cute  . . . sweet . . . shocking.”  Soon you find yourself wedging in this fact, and that one, and that one way over there.  You did so much research and you are not going to leave them out.

And, yes, you did do a lot of research.  That’s the nature of nonfiction.  You find out way more than you are going to use.

What?  Did I just say that you aren’t going to use all those glorious facts?

Yes.  Sadly, I did say that.

It is tempting.  I understand.  You don’t want all that hard work to be meaningless.

And it isn’t.  You needed background so that you could create your piece.  You have to know more than you are going to teach your reader.

Perhaps the hardest part of re-writing nonfiction is to remind yourself of the whole focus of the manuscript.  Whether you are teaching someone how to weave a table runner or discussing how to reduce single use plastics, you have a defined goal.  The facts that don’t support that goal, whatever it is, have got to go.

“Wait!  Wait!  I’ll create sidebars.”

And that does work to a point.  For those of you who don’t know what they are, a side bar is that block of text that is in a graphic box.  Most often, it is at the outer side of the page – thus sidebar.  Sometimes it is at the bottom.  It is essentially a mini-article about a topic that is mentioned in the main text.

Can’t mention it in the main text?  Then you can’t include it in a sidebar.

And that’s really okay.  You want your piece to be slick and focused.  That’s going to attract an editor.

All those other facts?  You can use them in a different piece of writing.  See?  Your time wasn’t wasted after all.