If I spent all of my time in my fiction-writing cave, I might look something like this—with less sunshine and messier hair:
While there are other ways to prevent writing-cave-psychosis, non-fiction writing is a valuable one. It can help us career, craft and mood-wise, put food on the table and funds in the bank, and keep us interacting in the real, if less important , world.
The day I committed to writing as a career, I began seeking non-fiction opportunities—even though my main focus was, and remains, fiction. I’m so glad I did. Writing in dual formats isn’t the best choice for all writers, but it works well for many. If you’re interested, curious or even skeptical about adding non-fiction to the mix, the following motivators are worth considering.
You might want to add non-fiction to your fiction-writing mix…
1. …because you want to. Writing only because we think we should, someone told us to or to get rich and famous is risky and often fruitless, in my opinion. And creative work takes too much time and energy to waste it on projects we aren’t jazzed about. If you only want to write fiction, stick to fiction. But if you’re curious about writing non-fiction as well, or just really want to, I say go for it. There are loads of benefits.
2. …to fulfill a need. I love this quote by Toni Morrison: “If there’s a book that you want to read, but it hasn’t been written yet, then you must write it.” I’d add if there’s a book you feel others need or can seriously benefit from that hasn’t been written, consider writing it. This is a major reason I write nutritional articles and am co-writing a nutrition book. There is so much misinformation out there, my heart aches. I’ll gladly go against the grain to help provide solid, health-promoting information. I hope that if there’s an issue you’re passionate about, you’ll do so, too.
3. …to keep your writing skills fresh and sharp. If you write fiction and blog posts, you’ve probably experienced the benefits of two mindsets and mediums. Blog writing, non-fiction book writing, article writing and fiction writing vary significantly, from the tone and format to publishing factors, like deadlines. Writing in multiple formats is like interval training in sports. A runner will run fast for several minutes, then slow, and repeat for heightened strength and endurance. Our writing “muscles” and projects benefit similarly from bouts of focused and away time.
4. …to make money. Fiction is a lot easier to sell and get represented than non-fiction. If you write non-fiction articles for websites, magazines or other publications, the opportunities are endless. Money shouldn’t be the main motivator for writing non-fiction, in my opinion, but it’s a valid one. I also like the fact that writers can get paid somewhat steadily between larger chunks from book advances and royalties. It keeps the cushion plush.
5. …to build your platform. I felt a bit Sybil-like when I started blogging. I write thrillers and health articles; it doesn’t get a whole lot more diverse than that. But I learned quickly that readers don’t mind if I cover healthy eating one day and rape survival or psychopaths on another. Whenever I feel concerned about being all-over-the-place, I remember what Kristen Lamb told me: “Readers will fall in love with your voice. That’s what matters.” Even when we juggle multiple mediums, our voice is our own. And I’d venture to guess that most fiction readers also read non-fiction. We never know when one of our works will lead someone to another.
6. …for fun. How cool is it to write about topics we are intrigued by? For many of us, writing is far more than a career path; it’s a passion. Writing non-fiction isn’t as fun as writing fiction—for me, anyway. But it’s a heck of a lot more fun than any other job I’ve had. I enjoy researching, interviewing and doing my best to relay information in captivating, accessible ways. If your non-fiction takes the form of blog posts, try sharing an embarrassing moment or funny story. The posts are fun to write, and the comments will likely have you laughing to the point of tears. (If you’re not convinced, check out the comments following this post. )
7. …to learn. I’ve learned more about health and nutrition through writing than any text book, class or program. Writing non-fiction often requires extensive research. Writing implants what we’ve studied into our brains on a deeper level than reading alone. Think about it: We not only have to comprehend the material, but relay it to others. If your research involves current studies and news, you’ll also stay on top of new information. If there’s a topic you really want to learn more about, why not pitch an article on that topic to a publication? Or write a blog post about it? Or both?
8. …to hone your researching skills. Many novelists rely on research to enhance and build their stories. Researching for non-fiction work sharpens these skills, as we continually put them into practice. Our fiction benefits as a result. The research components are also likely to take less time, or at least less stressful, as we gain experience and resources.
9. …for credibility. Non-fiction writing gives us a chance to show professionalism. In a world where anyone can publish anything, this is huge. Quality non-fiction credentials impress agents, publishers and readers. I’m pretty that numerous agents who requested my novel did so partly because of my journalism. One pointed out how much he values writers who know what it’s like to work with deadlines and editors.
10. …for boosted confidence. Having our work featured by reputable publications feels good. We have links and work samples to share on our websites, and can tell agents, publishers and others that we write for a living. There’s no shame in working a non-writing job while writing fiction, of course. But if you’re someone who prefers writing over other lines of work and enjoy the diversity, it’s a win-win. It’s also encouraging to receive positive feedback, which happens more and more with experience.
I’d love to hear your thoughts. Do you write novels and non-fiction? Why or why not? What do you love (or loathe) about it?
If you’re interested in getting started in freelance writing, or taking your freelance writing to another level, I’ve started a WANA Tribe called The Fabulous Freelancer. We’d love to have you.