I am so excited for todays post. As many of you know I tend to schedule my posts in advance so the first thing I want to do is thank Katy for waiting this long for her post to go live. It means the world to me that you were patient enough to fit into my schedule and I am SO FREAKING EXCITED to share this guest post with you. So without further ado, here's Katy's post;
Writing a novel can be a long—and sometimes overwhelming—project. Researching, planning, outlining, drafting, revising—the process can seem never ending and it can be hard to see tangible progress. Novel writing is an intense and enjoyable journey that’s not for the faint of heart. It’s playing the long game and sometimes you just need a few easy wins to keep you inspired and motivated. That’s why many writers suggest diving into short stories or flash fiction to shake things up and refresh your writing process. But here are four ways writing nonfiction can do the same and build skills that will help you when you're ready to go back to your novel.
1. Writing within constraints.
When you sit down to write a novel it can feel like the entire world is open to you. Your characters can be anyone, your setting can be anywhere, anything can happen—even magical or fantastical things. This is both liberating and writer’s block inducing. Where do you start? When you write nonfiction, you’re faced with one huge constraint—what you write has to be true, it has to be real, it has to actually have happened. Sometimes creating within a box is the most liberating thing you can do. It leaves room for stretching your imagination within a predetermined structure. For writing nonfiction, you get to decide what order you tell the events, how many details you share, and how the story will unfold. All of these details will determine what message, theme, or narrative your readers will absorb. It’s just enough freedom to get creative, but not so much that it’s overwhelming.
2. Absorbing experiences.
To write nonfiction you need to keep your eyes open. Whether you’re researching a topic, interviewing a subject, or gathering information from your own life, you need to be open to absorbing experiences. Nonfiction writing requires observing details, taking in body language, and recording information. Fine tuning these skills will allow you to dive back into your novel writing with a host of details, facial expressions, and experiences you can weave into your fictional tale.
3. Seeing the place and value of research.
At a recent writers festival I attended a panel where four fiction authors talked about their experience with research. Some of them felt like it was an essential part of the process and a joy to take on. Others felt like it was an endless rabbit hole you had to avoid falling down. But all of them agreed that it was necessary. Nonfiction writers know that research is an essential component of any piece of nonfiction. There’s no way you can write about something that actually happened without making sure you get the details right. Approaching a story with this mindset allows you to see the value of research and how it’s the foundation to any good narrative, but not what drives it. Experiencing research within a nonfiction context ensures you find the value in it when it’s time to head back to your novel.
4. Finding the heart of a story.
When you haven’t spent a lot of time writing nonfiction, it might seem like the story in true stories is obvious. You just record what happened, right? But nonfiction writers know that there’s so much more to it than that. The details you include, the order you record events, the things you leave out, the context you provide—all of these things are deliberate choices that significantly impact the story you tell and the impression you leave on your readers. The heart of nonfiction writing is gathering information and absorbing experiences and discovering what narrative lies beneath them. Simply recording the details of what happened is not only incredibly boring, but also nearly impossible. Your perspective as the writer and the information you have access to will always affect the story you tell. That’s what makes nonfiction so varied and interesting.
Applying this perspective to fiction conditions you to seeing your story as more than a simple sequence of events. How do the order of events or the way you reveal them to the reader affect the narrative? Thinking about these details will provide another layer of depth to your novel.
These are just four ways that nonfiction can both inspire you in your novel writing and help you grow as a writer. Writing outside of your genre allows you to become a more complex writer and to think about things from different perspective. Try out nonfiction—or flash fiction, poetry, short stories—the next time you’re stuck on your novel and that long game seems a little too long.
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