By Marion Aldridge“Writing Non-Fiction Articles and Columns”
for July 7, 2013, SCWW Blog
“Two types of writers fall short; those who write well about unimportant things, and those who write badly about important things.” Edward Hoagland, Tigers and Ice
Bodies don’t fall out of closets in most non-fiction, which is what I write. Short of corpses, I try to begin my articles, columns or chapters with some startling fact, or a clever, edgy, surprising, or funny phrase or story. Is there an elephant in the room that needs to be named? I like it when my writing provokes an “I can’t believe you said that!” response.
Start with a bang, and then assume that your reader has Attention Deficit Disorder.
Write about your passion. If the subject bores you, pity your poor reader.
Upgrade the verbs and adjectives in your document. If you treat one subject frequently, create your own thesaurus for that topic.
Avoid duplicating words, unless you use repetition for effect. I am utterly predictable in my critique groups. When someone uses the exact expression two times in close proximity, I will circle each instance. If the author returns to the cognates of that term over and over in the course of a manuscript, I believe a writer must find a way to say the same thing differently.
Read. The first time I heard someone declare that though they wanted to write, they did not enjoy reading, I thought that might be the stupidest confession I have ever heard. If you don’t like to read, don’t write.
Be witty. Even in the most serious of novels, odd and quirky events provide texture to the narrative. Entertain. Light and airy is better for most people than dense and intense.
Read what you have written out loud. Revise. Cut. Get to a fifth draft and a sixth draft. Whatever it takes. No short cuts. Composing an article is torturous and tedious work for me. I have served on boards when people would ask me, “Would you write up an account of this meeting? You are a good writer.” Would you ask a painter to sketch a watercolor of the meeting? Would your request that a pianist provide a melody describing the meeting? The person making the request doesn’t understand what they are asking. Writing, for me, is serious business and hard work.
Give the readers some way to respond to your composition with their senses. What in your article can they taste? Or smell? Get them to snap their fingers. That involves sound and touch. Don’t let the reader get bored or go to sleep. Can you add some color, maybe a vivid neon orange, or a subtle violet?
The biggest mistake I see in wannabe writers is thinking they will be the next Emily Dickenson, that when they are dead, someone will come along and find their clever words and finally appreciate the genius that they were. Not gonna happen. It occurred exactly once in history—and that was to Emily Dickenson. Every other writer had to work at the craft. William Shakespeare wrote for profit and on deadline. You are not better than Shakespeare. Hunker down. Write. Practice your profession. We learn to write by writing.