Novelists: 10 Great Reasons To Write Non-Fiction (Too)

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. 🙂

Leave a comment

62 Comments

  1. August, great tips to helping fiction writer branch out into other writing markets! It’s so great to be diverse and smart business wise – kind of like not having all your eggs in one basket. Plus research for non-fiction can definitely hone those skills for fiction. Funny enough – I escaped writing non-fiction to jump into fiction so did that backwards. I’m looking at stretching myself now with writing short stories vs. novels to branch out. Someday I may get back to writing non-fiction but for now will dream in my head. 🙂

    Reply
    • I relate to your path for sure, Donna. I’m in the minority of journalists who start with fiction, then dive into articles—so I’ve been told, anyway. 😉 I love how every journey is different. Yours, particularly dreaming full-time now, sounds fabulous!

      Reply
    • Donna, my path was the same as yours, sorta-kinda-in-a-way. I started out wanting to write fiction, but kept being asked to write nonfiction…and made my living at it for the past 20+ years. I’m finally at a place where I can jump into fiction while keeping my “paw” in the nonfiction arena, and (hopefully) the two will feed each other.

      August, there are MANY paths to the destination and the unique journey makes the arrival all the sweeter. 🙂 Dang, that sounds all philosophical-like, LOL!

      Reply
  2. EllieAnn

     /  August 6, 2012

    Sweet! Great advice.
    I just started writing a commentary on the book of Esther, just for personal fun. I was amazed at how different and challenging it was from my usual fiction fare. All different challenges, because I have to back up my words with truth.
    Also, I’m also surprised at the good non-fiction I read because it has pacing, tension, and especially VOICE . . . things essential to both fiction and non-fiction.

    Reply
    • Excellent point, Ellie Ann. Many of the same attributes apply to fiction and non-fiction. I much prefer NF that’s written with the same thrust and artistry as the best fiction. And your Esther commentary sounds fab. 🙂

      Reply
  3. Often it is a passion for the subject that drives people – as you say August this can be seen in their work and not merely grasping the pound notes!

    Reply
  4. There is nothing that I loathe about writing. If they locked me up in a dungeon with nothing but a dull butterknife I would scratch a story in the walls. 🙂

    Reply
  5. Writing for magazines also teaches you how to work with editors, meet deadlines, and write when you don’t necessarily feel inspired. Those are huge lessons for being a professional that we don’t get if we spend years writing only fiction or blog posts pre-publication. We also learn the hard truth about how far along the path we are. If your writing isn’t ready for the world yet, an editor will either help you get it there (an experience I was fortunate enough to have starting out) or you’ll be rejected. We’re rarely objective about our own abilities, and I think too many people put work out before they’re really ready.

    Reply
    • You’re so right, Marcy. Encouragement, guidance and criticism from editors and publishers can go a long way. Thanks for chiming in. 🙂

      Reply
  6. August, I’ve recently decided to add nonfiction to the fiction mix. I’m already published in nonfiction, since that’s what I write at my day job, and my mind is always swirling with ideas for articles, blog posts, nonfiction books, etc. With my interests in personal finance, simple living, and spirituality, writing nonfiction is a great fit for me, so expect more to come. Great post! I’ve chosen to write nonfiction for many of the reasons you’ve listed here. Good luck with your nutrition book! 🙂

    Reply
  7. I went from writing self help books to writing memoirs. I love the memoir genre. I also write articles on dating and relationships for many different sites for exposure and links to my site and books. It is a lot of fun!

    Reply
  8. Great post. I’ve toyed with writing a non-fiction book–maybe something involving pediatric obesity given my interest in the area–but there’s only so much time to write, and between my fiction and my blog, not much remains. But I still think about it. 🙂

    Reply
    • Time management and timing are important factors, Carrie. I love times when I’m 90 percent focused on fiction, probably more so thanks to times I’m split between.

      Reply
  9. Great post, August.

    I blog which took time to get into, and as you say, it’s all about readers hearing our voice.

    I’ve written non fiction. Six years ago I wrote my company’s ‘How to run a sales centre’ handbook for sales centre staff on the front line for a construction company. It went through everything from the customer journey to dealing with health and safety and the key points of building a house. That took me over a year and they kindly linked me up with an editor and publisher and the book is still in use today. Copyright etc is owned by the company.

    I write in two genres which keeps me fresh and have the first of three in a twenty novella romance series about a global corporate law firm coming out next month. For fiction authors, I believe it’s crucial to work on various projects. It keeps us sharp and nimble minded.

    Reply
    • I think so too, CC. Connections and nimble-ness—both awesome perks.

      I can’t wait to hear more about your novella series. And your latest is eagerly waiting for me on my Kindle… 🙂

      Reply
  10. Marc Schuster

     /  August 6, 2012

    Great post with a great point! My first two books were works of nonfiction, and I’m pretty sure that having those publications under my belt helped when I started looking for someone to publish my novels.

    Reply
  11. The day job involves a good amount on non-fiction writing, so I do it by default. It’s everything my fiction shouldn’t be. So I have to keep on my toes not to slip into it when I’m working on the novels. 🙂

    Reply
  12. I’ve always wanted to be able to set aside some time to write non-fiction (literary criticism, the history and development of feminism within fantasy) – it’s a problem of time for me. If I only have time to write fiction or non, I’ll choose the fiction every time. That doesn’t mean I don’t dream of having the opportunity to write the non! Thanks for the great post and the encouragement.

    Reply
  13. Coleen Patrick

     /  August 6, 2012

    You make great points August and I can liken those tips to writing articles for my blog. It definitely keeps me accountable and allows me to feel a sense of professionalism that I didn’t feel when the bulk of my day was spent in my fiction writing cave. 🙂

    Reply
  14. Eww. That looks like that Osbourne chick at a county fair booth….I prefer to read non-fiction, particularly that of an historical nature. “The River of Doubt” is an amazing example; it’s about Theodore Roosevelt’s expedition to an unexplored Amazon tributary. There are real people who’ve done the most amazing things. Of course, reading it is one thing and writing quite another. Almost all of my posts are non-fiction (with an occasional embellishment); I draw inspiration from real-life experience!

    Reply
    • I think personal experience is the best fodder for fiction and non-fiction. And you’re so right about fascinating people in the real world. 🙂

      Reply
  15. I like #5 a lot. I do fall in love with author’s voices and find it fun to hear about all different subjects from them. Great article.

    Reply
  16. Raani York

     /  August 6, 2012

    I only do write fiction. I always said if I would prefer non-fiction I had become a journalist. I’m not that good in reporting, and that’s what it usually ends with – a report. LOL
    Another great post August!!

    I did nominate you for the Reader’s Appreciation Award. Enjoy it! You might want to pick it from my blog and nominate your own choice of bloggers. 🙂

    Reply
  17. Great ideas! I have thought about writing for magazines and don’t have a clue so I will click on your link!

    Reply
  18. A LOT of great food for thought, August. I prefer non-fiction to fiction, and this was really good information. I think your point about loving to learn is the reason I most enjoy it.

    Reply
  19. I love to read non-fiction and you do a great job on your health posts, interviews, etc. I have done a few small non-fiction things but it feels like pulling teeth and I don’t enjoy it. I want to make sure I keep my love of writing. I used to love being creative in the medium of photography, but then I did it as a job (wedding photography) and got totally burned out. I rarely take pics for fun now and I don’t want that to happen with my writing.

    Reply
    • Enjoyment really is key, Shannon. I recently ditched a writing client (well, “ditched” sounds harsh…um, moved on from ;)) because I no longer enjoyed it after some company shifts. Passion is the mother of all we do as writers, IMO. And I bet your fiction rocks!

      Reply
  20. I’ve always wanted to write fiction but I could never motivate myself enough to make the time! I finally discovered that writing about what you know was the key to unlocking my creative energies. Who knew I’d owe my new direction to a horde of wacky travelers?

    Reply
  21. You’re right on target here market wise, August. My first technical writing job followed my work as a technical writer for military systems I had used and serviced earlier. Later I wrote ad copy for electronics products, computers and instrumentation. My most enjoyable work included script writing for videos used in trade shows. So many opportunities are out there for writers. Check out the market. The freelance market is wide open..

    Reply
  22. I’ll echo everything you said, August. I began with fiction, did a lot of print non-fiction a number of years ago, then some online while I went back to novels. I still like explaining complicated things in a way someone new to it can understand. I think you’re right that it keeps your writing fresh. My problem now is that daily life makes me think of more blog posts than novel scenes, so my novel is suffering!

    Reply
    • I imagine many writers can relate to that, Jennifer. Setting and keeping our priorities in line seems key, regardless of what they are. It’s sorta like dessert. 😉 If we continually skip hearty, tasty meals and head straight for the extras, we won’t be happy or healthy. Though excitement over blogging is a great thing.

      Reply
  23. These are all fab reasons, August! As a Ph.D./recovering/former academic, I’ve done enough non-fiction writing to last me my lifetime. But I do enjoy writing blog posts, which reaches a larger, more eclectic audience. And you are so right about learning through researching and writing about a topic. The active approach, I think, works better than the “sponge” approach for most of us!

    Thanks for some thought-provoking points. 😀

    Reply
  24. Like K.B. Owen, I too have done enough non-fiction writing to last me a lifetime – that is, in the corporate world! LOL! Before I started focusing solely on fiction and blogging, I wrote articles and news stories for investor, customer and employee publications. But I am more than open to writing helpful how-to articles for the publishing world! This post helped remind me of the possibilities out there. In fact, my last post (that you commented on – thank you!) is the basis for a presentation I’m giving at a writers’ conference in October. So if you have any tips or a point or two to add, please let me know, because I think you give good writing advice. (My audience will mostly be aspiring novelists.) And please know that I always enjoy your posts. They are very insightful and inspiring. I know I don’t always get around to commenting, but I’m looking to have more time when my boys go back to school in a few weeks! (although I’ll be buckling done to write my next novel.) 🙂 As we say here in Texas, keep ’em comin’!

    Reply
  25. I write both and find them exactly the same, only different. With NF I do all the research first, organize the material, and then begin to write. With fiction, I know what I need to know to start the story and I then do further research along the way. NF is better if the author incorporates at least a bit of fiction skill–I guess storytelling would be a better–somehow using the word fiction when talking about NF seems a sacrilege—but at the end of the day a NF work should communicate facts. Fiction should entertain. NF that spins a yarn (a factual yarn) and fiction that teaches are the books I like.

    Reply
    • Ha! Well said. I agree that fiction skills enhance NF. And it’s important to realize that the two have different purposes. (Stuffing too much factual material into fiction to show off our research isn’t smart either, right? ;)) Thanks so much for popping by.

      Reply
  26. Great post, August! I think all writers should try their hand at other forms — it builds the craft. Like half the population of our town, I attended screenwriting school. I wrote a few screenplays (which I hated), turned to fiction, then to nonfiction. In retrospect, it was the discipline of script writing that taught me the most, even though I never plan to write another screenplay in my life!

    Reply
  27. If you looked like that lady in the top picture, at least you’d be wearing a tiara. That’s never a bad thing.

    It’s funny, when I first started reading this, my heart sped up. I never thought I could write non-fiction, but that’s essentially what my blog is. I don’t think I ever considered the idea of writing NF as a way to strengthen my writing skills, but you’ve shown me the benefits of stretching the limits of my craft. Now… what to write about? NF can’t have magic or fantastical creatures… this is going to take some thought.

    Reply
  28. Running from Hell with El

     /  August 7, 2012

    I’m nodding along as I read this, August. Yep, for sure, I write both, because they fulfill totally different outlets. When I write fiction, I get to create a totally new world, with characters, possibilities, and dreams fleshed out in the pages of whatever I create. In non-fiction, I have a chance to make sense of my life and the real world around me . . . but this only gets me so far. My heart is in writing fiction.

    But like you said, writing NF really helps a writer strengthen her writing chops. And find an authentic voice.

    Reply
  29. Hi August,

    I just joined The Fabulous Freelancer… I’d like to start writing some non-fiction but I don’t know where to start. Did I join the correct forum?

    Reply
  30. You can gain a great sense of accomplishment in writing a non-fic piece. Ten years ago, I decided to write a technical article just to see if I could get it published. I connected with an editor on staff with Advisor Media through my day job, proposed my idea, and got a yes right away. Even better, when I turned in the article, they paid me quickly – and more than I’d expected! It’s been a nice note on my resume since, and has gained me respect among my colleagues at subsequent jobs, evne though the technology in it is now obsolete. Now if only I had the time to write another one…

    Reply
  31. I plan to someday – when I’m ready to broach the subject of death and dying a little closer. It wouldn’t be very uplifting but might help others going through the same thing. I’ve dealt with many different kinds of death – cancer, AIDS, paralysis and starvation, slow death in a hospice and death by car accident. There’s got to be something I’ve learned to help people deal with grief. But I’m not ready to write that book yet. Instead I pour the emotion into my fictional stories. 🙂

    I love that you keep kicking my butt to get me moving.

    Reply
  32. Currently, my nonfiction manuscript is providing the belief system for the characters in my novel. I had decided to dump the novel but after I began writing the nonfiction book, I saw the way to tell the kernel idea of the novel. Essentially, it is a new novel.

    I am having fun with both and two manuscripts are doing wonders for my writing. I am considering polishing some essays for publication but to be quite honest, I’m having so much fun with the two manuscripts I haven’t really pursued publication with any diligence.

    As always, great post, August.

    Karen

    Reply
  33. All very good words of advice. I love doing research for my fiction books. That’s the non-fiction part. I use those “facts” to twist and turn and weave into my fictional worlds. I like D.P.Lyle’s words:

    “NF that spins a yarn (a factual yarn) and fiction that teaches are the books I like.”

    Me too.

    Patricia Rickrode
    w/a Jansen Schmidt

    Reply
  34. great article, August. I love writing my blog to get me into non-fiction. it’s such a different skill set from fiction.

    Reply
  35. I think writing non-fiction actually might work for me. I hadn’t really given it any thought until I read this. I love research and I love, well… lots of things. But I have no clue what I’d write about. At all. Would that WANA tribe apply to me?
    What on earth would one write in the non-fiction world? It feels like a parallel world to me lol! I should go walk around in that section in Barnes and Noble…..

    Also, #5 – thank you so much for writing that! I’ve had a lot of problems with that lately, blogging and what not. I’m not just interested in one thing, I don’t do just one thing, so how am I supposed to stick to writing one thing? Especially on a blog, which is supposed to reflect me? This makes so much more sense. Again, thank you. Its always nice to hear that a pro is the same way. 🙂

    Reply
  36. Love this post August. Great tips and suggestions and tons of food for thought.
    I actually write a LOT of non-fiction for my day job. It’s what I’ve done for over 15 years working in communications and I must say, I do enjoy it. When I thought about writing a book, I actually naturally thought I’d write non-fiction….it’s only been the last few years that I’ve tossed the idea of writing pure fiction around. I am still finding my footing but you’ve opened my eyes to the idea of doing BOTH!!
    You are the best…muah!

    Reply
  37. I’ve nominated you for a Very Inspiring Blog Award! You can see it here and follow the steps on it! I really enjoy your blog!
    http://thehealthyflavor.com/2012/08/05/overwhelmed-as-a-newbie/

    Next steps if you want to participate:
    1. Link back to the nominator
    2. List 7 facts bout yourself
    3. List 15 nominations if you can
    4. Display award logo on your blog

    Reply
  38. Kourtney Heintz

     /  August 11, 2012

    August, you raise some great points about writing non-fiction. It’s something I definitely will consider. I do enjoy the contrast of blog posting and fiction writing–I feel like it keeps me fresh and hones my writing muscles daily. 🙂

    Reply
  39. mgedwards

     /  August 15, 2012

    I agree with you, August — there’s a lot of value in writing non-fiction. I think I’m a fiction writer trapped in a non-fiction writer’s body! have found non-fiction easier to write and more stimulating since I started writing full time last year. It’s a big change from when I was younger and dreamt up stories as a means of escapism. Why? I’m not sure.

    Reply
  40. I’m sorry I’m so late to this post, August, but I’m glad I made it. I agree wholeheartedly. There’s nothing wrong with only writing fiction or only writing non-fiction, but a combination of the two stretches your muscles and creates a more well-rounded writer. I do plan to write non-fiction. I read non-fic exclusively for years-I was just hooked on it. I love it as much as I love fiction. Like you, I’m interested in health – nutrition, fitness, and relationships. There is a lot of misleading and just incorrect information out there. One day I’ll have a book that sets readers on the right road in one of many focused health arenas. For me, it’s been more about keeping myself young and helping others stay that way.

    Reply
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