Writers aspire to achieve many goals. Some want to be New York Times bestselling novelists. Some want to win poetry prizes. Others want to have their books made into movies.
These are all fine goals, but few of the most common writing ambitions involve creating nonfiction. This is because for most people, becoming a bestselling novelist looms so large as the desired goal that it causes them to pursue fiction writing over other genres.
Somehow, many people assume that inventing is more likely to move them toward the objective of being recognized for their work, or even more powerful than telling their own stories.
I don’t mean to step on anyone’s ambitions or be a dream killer…but I would argue that this belief is deeply problematic.
First, people who choose to write fiction purely for the goal of becoming a bestselling author have misplaced their focus. The sad truth is that of all the people who set out to accomplish this, very precious few actually do.
That doesn’t mean that you shouldn’t try to reach your goal. But it also means that you should recognize that there are many more ways to showcase your talent that can be equally rewarding, if not more so. Book sales and accolades aren’t always your best indicators of success.
Second, fiction writing isn’t the only way to tell stories. Telling true stories, whether your own or those of others, can take on a variety of forms and structures; in many cases, far more than fiction can.
I’m going to tell you more about this in just a minute, but first, I need you to understand one thing.
You are not “settling” if you write nonfiction.
Trying your hand at nonfiction doesn’t make you any less committed to fiction writing. It’s not a competition—you are allowed to be more than one thing as an author. In fact, you should be. Gaining experience in other genres doesn’t make you flighty or indecisive. It makes you a better creator.
In my Master of Fine Arts program for creative writing, we had to declare a primary genre (mine was fiction). But we also had to take at least one class in a different genre. I took both poetry and nonfiction classes, and I was surprised by the creative skills that each genre unlocked in my writing.
You can have two things you write, or maybe even three. It doesn’t make you any less devoted to what you consider to be your “main thing.”
Having said all that…here are a few reasons why you should write nonfiction, or at least give it a try.
Broader Publication Potential
The simplest way to put it is that finding an audience and publication opportunities is easier with nonfiction than fiction. More people pursuing goals with fiction writing means that there are a lot of untapped niches and opportunities in the nonfiction world.
Because of that, it is easier in many cases to place nonfiction work with a book publisher, magazines, or literary journals.
If you’re a fiction writer or poet, here’s an experiment to try. Explore your work to see what real-life topics are buried in the plot or poem. This may be easier if you are writing historical fiction or stories based on actual events—there are ready-made nonfiction topics just waiting for you to dig into.
However, this doesn’t exclude authors of sci-fi, romance, mystery, and other genres from exploring nonfiction topics. If your book involves futuristic technology, dig into the current trends that could set the stage for such technology to be developed and write an article about it.
If you have a character in your romance novel who has dealt with a traumatic relationship or past event, research that particular trauma and write a piece about it.
Many poets explore social issues or deep emotions—what real-life topics could you address in an essay based on a poem? OR…are there poems you’ve written that actually might work better if you rewrote them as essays?
And of course, if you are writing a novel based on personal experiences, you can always write an essay that relates the real-life events behind the book.
Here’s the best part: you are under no pressure to publish your piece or even show it to anyone. But you will likely discover new facets or dimensions to your topic that will make your fiction project even better.
Do you want to make money writing? There are hundreds of opportunities to craft nonfiction online.
During the pandemic, two things happened to businesses. First, more of them became exclusively remote workplaces. And second, more people started businesses of their own.
As a result, there is a huge demand for article writers, content creators, copywriters, and much more.
If you’re concerned that taking on one of these jobs is “selling out,” consider this: all writing is creative because all writing involves problem solving and finding unique ways to incorporate information into an engaging piece that will help readers.
Therefore, even if you consider yourself to be mainly a fiction writer, your skills are easily transferable to a medium that requires you to synthesize existing information into a new piece of content.
I worked in marketing for three years. During that time, I wrote about a lot of things I never thought my career as a writer would bring me to, including health insurance, hair transplants, bar furniture, assisted living, boats, and more.
It tested my research skills and ability to combine useful information with language. And it transformed my creative writing. My work got cleaner, more concise, tighter, and stripped down.
This doesn’t mean it lost its “soul” or that I got less creative. It means my writing became more accessible to readers by reducing the language to only what is absolutely necessary.
More words don’t make a story better. Saying what the reader needs to know in the fewest words possible makes it easier to read and removes obstacles to understanding the message.
Writing nonfiction in the online professional space makes you a better writer. Plus, you can make money.
Use Your Experiences to Make a Difference
Do you have a very particular life experience or area of expertise? Writing about it can make a difference in the lives of readers by helping them answer questions and solve problems.
This is why memoirs in particular can be so empowering. They not only give readers more information about your topic, but are relatable. Good nonfiction makes your specific experience universal by telling the story in a way that engages readers and shows the larger meaning for their lives.
The same thing applies to authors who write biographies or books about real events. The best examples of these books captivate readers as much as the best fictional stories, while also invoking questions about how the topics relate to the world around us.
Writing nonfiction gives you the chance to tell a true story about yourself or someone else that can cause readers to think differently about themselves and their environments.
Ready to Try Writing Nonfiction?
If you’re ready to start experimenting with nonfiction, we’ve got two things that can help.
First, for the entire month of March, Creativity Matters will be talking about different elements and topics related to nonfiction writing.
If you haven’t subscribed to the Inkling Creative Strategies newsletter, click here to sign up so you won’t miss a single post. You’ll also get book, music, and movie recommendations, special discounts on services, new resources, and important updates to benefit you as a writer.
Second, check out the Ultimate Writing Project Workbook, a collection of worksheets, prompts, tools, and more to help you explore your next project.
While this book was originally developed for fiction writers, there is also a nonfiction edition—and you can get both editions for free!
Click here to request your copies and we’ll send it to your email.