One Writer’s Journey

July 31, 2017

Compelling Nonfiction: 4 Rules for Writing Important Stories

I’ll be the first to admit it.  Sometimes, by the time I’ve finished writing one of my more difficult books, I have troubles remembering why.  Why in the heck did I think it was a good idea to write about Black Lives Matter?  I definitely had the same doubts by the time I finished What Are Race and Racism?

But difficult projects are often the most important.  Why?  Because they are the stories that need to be told.

Here are 4 tips for those of you contemplating such a project.

  1. Write about the things that annoy you.  Writing about something that is controversial and people argue about.  If it is a topic that people are passionate about, young readers will want to read it and librarians are going to be more interested in having the book on their shelves.  This is also the topic about which you will be passionate enough to finish.
  2. Question your assumptions.  When we write about things that tug at our heart-strings, we have to remember to question our assumptions.  It is easy to assume that a source is spot on and 100% correct because it agrees with what you believe.  Look for the proof that you need to back up that opinion.  You may not like what you find but that’s okay.  You’re trying to get at the facts.
  3. Don’t expect everything to be black and white. We’d love to answer all of our readers questions.  But sometimes there is a fact that you simply cannot find or something that has yet to play itself out.  When things are unclear, admit this to your reader.  Give them the facts, some people say X, others say Y and this is why we don’t know who is right.
  4. Give the panoramic perspective. Looking for sources that disagree with your assumptions and admitting what we don’t know are important because you should be giving your reader the big picture.  I knew which side I agreed with when I started writing the DAPL (Dakota Access Pipeline) book but I portrayed both sides.  When I wrote Black Lives Matter, I gave the straight forward facts surrounding each situation.  It is your job to present your reader with the broader facts.

Writing about difficult topics is hard, there’s no doubt about it.  From finding the facts and laying them out in a way that let’s your reader come to their own conclusion, it is a tricky balancing act.  But it is definitely worthwhile.



August 14, 2013

Writing is easy. . . Not

writingI guess I’m a little dense, because it was only recently that I really understood the truth in this statement.  I’m not one of those writers who gets writer’s block on a regular basis.  And, yes, some scenes or descriptions are easier to pull together than others but I’ve very seldom written anything that left me entirely raw.  As difficult as it was, it is something I think I need to do more often.

Just a few weeks ago I wrote a blog post about religious bullying that my son and I experienced.  The post took me two months to write and I can even tell you how many versions I deleted.  Most were too bitchy, more vitriol than anything useful.  I could have given up, I wanted to give up, but the situation was just too outrageous and I still hate the thought that people I was writing about thought their actions were not only okay but, most likely, commendable.

At last, I managed to get something together that was worth sharing.  Was it worth it?  I wasn’t sure.

It didn’t take long for me to realize that it was 100% worth it.  A friend reposted the piece on her Facebook wall and it all took off.  In the next two days, that post alone brought as much traffic  as the blog usually sees in two weeks.  Why?  Because I had bled onto the page.

If I had written about something easy, it wouldn’t have had the same effect.  My writing touched readers who had been through similar situations and because, not surprisingly, few people managed to write about it.  

What did I learn?  That some things are blazingly difficult to write about but that in many ways these are the things that mean the most to the right readers.  As a result, I’ve shifted around my to-do list to prioritize a picture book that I roughed out but never finished.  I’ve let it sit because it too has been an extraordinarily difficult.  Why?  Because it involves religion and while I firmly believe this book needs to be written, I know that some people will react very badly to it.  That said, there are people out there who will respond just as positively because this is going to be a tough book to do well.  Accomplishing a solid draft will be like bleeding onto the page.



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