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Lifestyle | Non-fiction story writing: three tips for success

If you are interested in this topic, take a look at our Random House Struik Write a Non-Fiction Story course.

The process of writing a non-fiction story can prove rather challenging, especially if you are not familiar with this genre of writing. Whether you have chosen to write a story about your life, an incident you have witnessed, a well-researched period in history or about the life of someone very close to you – the art of non-fiction writing involves taking real-life facts and reworking them into a compelling story.

Generating a suitable story idea is generally the most difficult part of the non-fiction writing process. Individuals embarking on their first non-fiction writing venture are often excited by the first idea that inspires them; however, the question of whether this idea can be sustained for several chapters is usually quite a sobering one. The truth is – story ideas exist in abundance, but they need to be explored thoroughly before you begin writing.

Once you have firmly decided on a story idea, it’s time to put in the hard work. Here are some tips for success.

1.    Research, research, research
Any work of non-fiction requires a substantial amount of research. By definition, non-fiction writing has to be founded in truth, or at least contain more fact than fiction. To ensure that any factual account is gripping, you will need to gather a significant amount of detail. If your story pertains to your life, you may want to collect old photos, letters, diaries and anything else of relevance that will help you to paint a detailed and captivating picture with your words. A non-fiction story about a period in history may require paying frequent visits to the library, digging up old archives, reading multiple accounts of the same period or incident, and perhaps even looking at some photographic material from that time. All of the information that you gather will help you to explore issues beyond the surface and create multi-faceted characters.

2.    Avoid writer’s block
Setting deadlines and sticking to them will keep you on the path to success. Every writer experiences writer’s block. Nevertheless, the irresistible urge to procrastinate cannot be allowed to take over – or you will never complete your non-fiction story, or any story for that matter. Deadlines have a way of keeping you focused, especially if there is some deliverable that must be met. If you feel that setting a deadline just for the sake of it is a redundant practice, perhaps you could line up a friend to read your work on a specific date or publish your story in sections on a blog. This will ensure that you feel a sense of responsibility towards your readers or the person tasked with checking your work.

3.    Seek out honest feedback
Writers usually work in isolation, but they need support at various stages during the writing process. In the beginning stages, support may come as a friend who you can bounce story ideas off of. Later, you will need to find a trusted writer who can review your work and give you critical feedback. This is one of the primary reasons why writers enjoy networking. It’s great to have a circle of experienced advisors who can reaffirm your ideas or question them before it’s too late. Just remember that critical feedback is part and parcel of the writing process and it acts as your all-important safety net.  

Whether you’re writing your first non-fiction story or you’re a seasoned professional within the field, these three tips will help to ensure your success. Be diligent with your writing – the finished product is worth the effort it requires

This article is published under the Creative Commons Attribution license.

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