Why This Topic?

Identifying Your Why for Stronger Nonfiction Writing (Part 1)

Cassandra C. Stirling

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Image by Anand KZ from Pixabay

I have random piles of books scattered throughout my house that I’m planning on donating. Some were gifts, some impulse buys, but most (unfortunately) are nonfiction.

I’m a re-reader, whether that is fiction, mystery, or nonfiction. I’ve got nonfiction books on my shelf that, when I first read them, I poured over the first part, skimmed the second, and cherry-picked points out of the third. Only to find myself returning years later in a different point in life where the second and third parts spoke to me instead.

That’s the beauty of nonfiction (and fiction too). Sometimes the sections of the book that appeal to you when you first pick it up won’t appeal to you later, but something else will.

What I don’t like, however, is picking up a nonfiction book and thinking it is the topic for me, only to put it down after I read most of the first chapter. When this initially happens, I give the book another chance at a separate time. It could be my current mindset or that it doesn’t resonate with me yet.

If the second read also fails, then something else is wrong with the book (for me). At this point, I peel it apart with my editor tools and typically find that it wasn’t my perspective or mindset that stopped my engagement; it was the entire book.

But what wasn’t working, and how can it be improved? @cass

Intent & Failure to Capture

When writers craft a nonfiction novel about their experiences, life events, or research, their intent is (I hope) for good. They want to share their story, thinking, or experiences and hope others can learn from it.

How you as the author present that material — creative nonfiction, memoir or general nonfiction — is important not only to convey your ideas but also to appeal to the reader. You can have all the best intentions in the world, but you will fall short if you forget who you’re writing for and why you are writing it.

This is what I find to be the biggest mistake nonfiction writers make — they don’t ask their why questions: Why you, why this book, and why readers should read it. Fail to answer any of these and you can end…

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Cassandra C. Stirling

Writer, editor, writing coach, and videogamer. I write about writing, books, and occasionally videogames.