“I can’t write nonfiction. I’m not an expert.”
“Research scares me.”
“What if I get it wrong?”
Do any of these excuses sound familiar? Well, I am here to say there is nothing to fear from nonfiction.
If you write fictional stories, you can also write true stories. Both employ the same storytelling techniques such as a compelling lead, active verbs, scenes and other literary devices. The only difference is that you must weave your story with the thread of truth.
I have written about Thomas Jefferson, forensic anthropology, bacteria and viruses, manatees, post-traumatic stress and more, and yet I am not an expert on any of those subjects. That’s not my job. As a nonfiction writer, my job is to seek out the experts and find the information I need to write the story I want to tell. Instead of worrying about your lack of expertise, give yourself permission to be the student. Imagine you are a young reader. What would you want to know? Embolden yourself to ask the dumb and not-so-dumb questions, and become the author who delivers the answers.
If the R word scares you, reframe it in your head. You are simply learning about a topic that interests you. It is a chance to exercise your curiosity and explore. Research is reading when you should be folding laundry; surfing the internet in your pajamas; meeting people (not in your pajamas); and an excuse to travel (and write off the expenses). What’s so scary about that?
Lastly, you will never have to worry about “getting it wrong” if you use reliable sources and keep orderly notes so you can easily check your facts. I like to photocopy everything, but there are many ways to stay organized. Find a system that works for you. For extra insurance, get your manuscript fact-checked by one or more of the experts you consulted. They will appreciate the opportunity to see that you represented them and their field of study correctly, and you get the satisfaction of telling a prospective editor that so-and-so, a professional what-not, approved your well-researched and well-written true story.
See? You CAN handle the truth.
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