by Pat Miller
I took an informal poll at a writer’s conference, asking if they wrote nonfiction. If they didn’t, it was often because they thought it was boring, that the research was overwhelming, and that kids don’t read it.
As a long-time elementary teacher, librarian, and children’s author, I’d like to share why I think writing nonfiction is such a pleasure. It could be for you as well.
1. Curiosity comes first. Children are powerfully motivated by curiosity—think of a toddler. Imagination kicks in much later than curiosity. Being the one to write the books that pique and respond to children’s curiosity is immensely satisfying. Kids DO read nonfiction—they want to KNOW! For more about how children like nonfiction, read this article by Melissa Stewart and friends.
2. The ideas are already "out there". Whereas fiction writers must nourish the tender sprout of inspiration, nonfiction writers need hedge trimmers to shape the lush growth of information that is readily available.
Books, letters, journals, and newspapers from prior centuries are readily available, as are millions of historical photographs, census records, deeds, and obituaries. Many can be accessed from your home computer. Museums feature items from bygone days—clothing, toys, tools, inventions. Their collections are often accessible online. For example, The Black Cowboy Museum near me has video of their exhibits.
3. Experts are eager to help do the work. You don’t have to know what you are talking about when you write nonfiction. Part of research is to find someone who does. Medieval dress, pikas, Inuit wedding traditions--someone is passionate about it.
When I was researching the mariner who invented the doughnut, I got help from librarians, maritime history professors, docents at a maritime museum, and newspaper archivists. Don’t forget interest groups, scientists, re-enactors, documentaries, and restored homes, shops, and battlefields.
With nonfiction, you aren't alone with the blank page. Though you can conduct a lot of research online, visiting places and experts is fun and provides writers a bonus--tax write-offs!
4. Experience counts. Did you try parasailing on your honeymoon? Do you have a passion for genealogy, identifying birds, or making doll furniture? You can write about your interests. Keep a journal on your cruise, follow up on something you hear on TV, or interview kindergartners. It’s all fertile ground in which to grow a true book.
5. Mentor texts provide clues. When I begin research, I located books on my topic. Not only did each provide useful content, but they often showed ways to use dialogue, craft a narrative arc, or break down complex science into books that children understand.
Another bonus is that the authors lean in and whisper, “Look in the back—I left you a road map.”
Back matter includes author notes, books and sites used, and experts consulted. You can use those resources. And though Wikipedia is not considered a reliable source, scroll to the bottom of the article, and look for the resources used to write it. It’s a jackpot!
Exercise your curiosity and your creativity by giving nonfiction a try. You may discover that rather than being boring, writing true can be satisfying and addictive!
Pat Miller (www.patmillerbooks.com) is a former teacher and school librarian. She has written 20 books for school librarians and 10 for children. She is the author of the award-winning NF, The Hole Story of the Doughnut, illustrated by Vincent Kirsch).
We are nonfiction authors who support readers and writers through our writing, author visits, and workshops.
Disclaimer: The Nonfiction Ninjas are a group of writers with diverse ideas . The views expressed in each post are those of the author and may differ from others in the group.