A Rant and Some Nonfiction Writing Tips

Yes, this is a rant, but I hope that it will be a constructive rant.  You see, I have some friends who are, let’s say, newly published writers.  By that I mean that their work has been published in multiple national literary journals, they’ve won an award or two, and they like to share their success.  A lot.

Now, I don’t have a problem with my writer-friends and writer-acquaintances advertising their books and other work.  Share it, please, as these publishers and writers need a few bucks and recognition for their hard work.  Facebook is a forum for unabashed self-flaunting.  Go for it.

But here’s what I don’t like: when I read one of the essays or puff pieces written and linked-to by these authors on the Internet and they’re self-aggrandizing.  Somehow a short essay about a summer job becomes a recounting of the great stories the author wrote as a teenager.  Somehow a piece about a hometown becomes about how much the author writes, in how many genres, and what else the author is awesome at, according to herself (dancing).

To be constructive, here are my tips, as a nonfiction writer, to avoid doing this:

1. Stick to the facts.  Rather than saying, “I’m a pretty great ballet dancer,” say “I’ve been taking ballet classes for seven years, and last year I played Clara in the Orlando Ballet’s production of The Nutcracker.”  Then, you can add emotion to it, at the same time humanizing yourself as a character.  “This was a great achievement for me, as I have auditioned for this role for the past three years.”

2. Tame the ego.  We all have egos–just ask Freud.  Too much self-aggrandizing will make you a less empathetic character.  Just like any character, to succeed in nonfiction writing, the protagonist must have a flaw!

3. Focus on the outside.  Focus on what’s outside of you–your environment, your friends, your subject matter.  No matter what, as a human being, you see the world through a filter.  Unless you’re an extremely trained journalist, your emotion will show through.  There is a time to show and a time to reflect.  

4. Reflect carefully.  To reflect is to go back to your environment, subject matter, and research and consider what it means to the questions you are asking.  Consider what it means to you, and, if you’re writing a memoir, how an event has changed you.  Readers are propelled through the story by you as a character, but they really want to know how what you’re writing about affects them.

5. Remember your audience.  This goes back to basic writing classes: For whom are you writing?  Why are you writing this?  What will your readers get out of it?  The same questions can be looped back to promoting one’s own work–what’s this Facebook post about, and how can I promote my work without being offensive?  Do I just not care whether I’m offensive or not?  One always risks readers clicking the “hide all posts from this user” button.  It’s your choice whether to encourage this or not.

Okay, my rant is over now.  I must not discount a driving force for this–jealousy.  I often ask myself how I would behave in similar circumstances, and that’s how I came up with the five rules above.  A respected mentor recently offered this condolence, too, that some people are here to move us forward and to show us what not to do.

Happy writing, reading, blogging, and posting!

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About Em-dash Lady

Em-dash Lady enjoys creative writing most of all, but her interests include art forms from music to writing to visual art to indie films and so forth. She's especially interested in how the art forms influence each other and blend together. She's a creative writing teacher and writer who mostly writes memoir and poetry about her favorite activity, watching TV. I would say I'm kidding, but I'm not. Naps are also her favorite. Too many favorites to count! Enjoy following Em-dash Lady as she figures out how she fits in the ever-evolving world of art.
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