writing-tips-where-writers-winThanks to non-fiction writer Helen Aitken for this guest post!

I write nonfiction. Don’t ask me to write a novel or any kind of fictional piece. I couldn’t do it if Stephen King handed me a manuscript, stood over me, grabbed my fingers and began typing.

I also write humor. If I take a tidbit of truth and stretch it, pull it, or squish it, it becomes another animal altogether, which isn’t nonfiction, but that’s not my point here. You might say that humor and nonfiction are polar opposites, unless it’s humorous creative nonfiction, which is my favorite genre. Believe it or not, fiction, nonfiction and humor have a lot in common. Here are seven favorite writing tips that can apply to any good piece of writing:

1. Writing nonfiction, creative nonfiction and humor require the same qualities as great fiction, it should be well written and flowing in a direction that takes the reader to a logical destination, without them knowing they’ve been highjacked.

2. Nonfiction doesn’t have to be boring, or in sequential order.  However, it requires a working knowledge of English, few passive verbs, pertinent facts, great quotes, and a lack of clichés, in a concise, coherent writing style, with lots of hot coffee.

3. Sometimes when I’m writing a humor piece, I use regional phrases and accented words, like “darlin’, and “Well, shut my mouth.” This would be inappropriate for an article on nuclear fission, unless it’s Southern nuclear fission. Look professional and choose the right writing style.

4. The same thing is said for clichés.  Whoever coined the phrase “think out of the box” was innovative and descriptive. After the millionth time, it became a cliché and there are better ways to utilize the English language.  Your goal should be to create the perfect phase that becomes cliché, so we can avoid it.

5. In Japanese, there is only one word to describe delicious food, “Oishi.”  It doesn’t matter if it is for a meat or dessert, that’s the only word to use.  However, if you were to list all the words to describe delicious food in English, you might come up with ten, fifteen words or more.  Try it, then make your writing “delicious.”

6. When I write a magazine or newspaper article, I must be mindful of the word count. Sometimes there is a space limitation, or the publisher is paying me by the word; he’s always counting his pennies.  Bottom line, be concise, choose your words wisely, and edit, edit, edit so his pennies become your dollars.

7. A shortcut that may help is using “TK.  It means, “To Come” and is used to fill in a space for the right word later on. I use it when the writing stalls and I need to move on, or I’ve had a little too much coffee; it holds my place.

Need more direction or writing tips? Check out Jim Romenesko’s blog about words in writing at JimRomenesko.com and from the Washington Post’s Outlook section.

What’s the best advice YOU ever got on writing? Share your best writing tips with us for an upcoming article… be sure to include your own website so we can link folks to more of your wise words!

Helen in Tarragona, Spain 2012 CHelen Aitken is an award winning freelance writer, humorist and photographer. She is the author of It Only Happens to Me…   Can you dial 9-1-1? Visit her humor blog at www.helenaitken.com. Graphic courtesy freedigitalphotos.net


3 thoughts on “Seven Writing Tips From a Nonfiction Author

  • September 25, 2013 at 7:44 am

    Hi Shari
    Helen Aitken SHOULDN’T sell herself short. When I began to write in earnest I wrote commentary type items for a community newspaper for several years. Along the way, over eleven years ago, I began to write an adult Contemporary romance however I never seemed to be able to get more than about halfway in writing it.
    Someone then suggest I write for a younger audience. I did and wrote my first YA Paranormal/Time Travel/First Kiss romance novel entitled “I Kissed a Ghost” and those who’ve read it have said they liked the storyline.
    The journey from typing that first letter to typing the elusive final period has been a learning experience. I had to learn, and I still have to learn more, about show not tell, descriptive narratives, dialogue. When I held the proof copy for the paperback edition in my hands and smell the luscious aroma of the fresh ink on the pages of it, I still couldn’t believe I’d written a 246 page novel for teenage and young girls.
    Just as Helen needs to develop the nonfiction she writes from the beginning to the end, building on what she’s written on the previous pages, I had to the same thing. However, instead of merely facts, I had to worry about character and storyline development.
    Right now I’ve returned to writing the manuscript I’d started so many years ago using the knowledge I’ve gained writing my first YA romance. I’ve noticed all the mistakes I’d made in my first attempt and can see the vast improvement in my writing. I’ve written about 89 pages with about 26,300 words so far and have my sights on finishing this manuscript by the end of the year.
    I believe Helen should definitely try her hand at writing some fiction; it doesn’t have to be in romance genre. The interesting thing about writing fiction is that most, if not all, of the tips she’s given us also applies here as well.

  • September 24, 2013 at 8:05 pm

    I had to laugh when I read your first paragraph. I also write nonfiction and a few months ago I decided I’d challenge myself to write fiction so I registered for the annual write a novel in a month event for November. Eventually I came to my senses and dropped out. The truth is I love writing nonfiction, and I do agree with it does not having to be as boring as dirt, although – sadly – a lot of it is.

    • September 24, 2013 at 8:25 pm

      There ya go, Marquita! Hey, we write plenty of it too 🙂

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