Whenever I speak to groups about writing nonfiction, I get some variation of the following question: What can I write about? Can I write about science if I’m not a scientist, history if I’m not a historian, or art if I’m not an artist?
This is a subjective question, of course, and opinions vary. But I thought I’d share mine.
I don’t believe you have to be an expert to write about something you’re interested in—writing is a great way to explore new things. But at the same time, accuracy is critical in nonfiction. So if you’re not an expert, you need to be willing to do your homework.
My background is in science, so I’ll use that as an example here, but the same principle applies to other topics as well.
When I critique stories from non-scientists, I see two common issues:
The remedy for this is twofold.
Here’s what this looks like for me. While most of my books are science-themed, I’ve also written middle-grade books on the Titanic and Ancient Egypt. Since I was starting from scratch, these took a TON of research. I needed to figure out which authors are considered reliable and which are controversial. Then I immersed myself in documentaries and stacks of scholarly books. I created timelines, charts, etc. Each book was then reviewed by an expert before publication.
Even for topics in my field, I often get an expert review. It’s easy to overlook something or for errors to creep in. When I wrote about physics, I ran the text by my engineering professor brother. For Amazing Amphibians and Marvelous Mammals, I found reviewers with PhDs in herpetology and mammalogy. All of them gave valuable insights.
So to return to the original question: Can you write about something if you’re not an expert? Of course you can! Just make sure you’re willing to do your homework. Kids deserve no less!
We are nonfiction authors who support readers and writers through our writing, author visits, and workshops.
The Nonfiction Ninjas are a group of writers with diverse ideas and a strong belief in The First Amendment. The views expressed in each post are those of the author and may differ from others in the group.