Notes on non-fiction writing

This is the latest outcome from another days feeding. This time I took an online course in writing non fiction which turned out to be quite informative!

Considering my experience lasted an entire day I have attempted to pick out ten (spoiler alert : it’s eleven) points which I found particularly interesting. Some of the following points I picked out because they could be easily transferred to writing code, in reality many of them could be talking about lots of different activities. Here they are :

  1. Do not go into a story knowing too much about what you are investigating.
  2. The lede should have just enough information to entice the reader to read on, do not give away too much straight away. The conclusion should not be a recap of everything written, no story ever finishes, pick out a precious moment from the text. What emotion would you like to leave the reader with?
  3. The revision process should be treated like a great thing, a chance to make something better.
  4. One tip to make editing better is to move pieces of the text to another file rather than deleting them directly.
  5. Always be on the look out for new stories, not all of them will get there.
  6. Do not keep all of your notes on the computer, they are good at showing you one thing at a time but not for an overview of the story.
  7. Print out the notes from the previous days writing and edit them by reading them aloud.
  8. Spend some time thinking about what you have written. The thinking part of writing is often over looked.
  9. Cultivate a love of language. It is the passion in a peice of writing which will often convince people to read it.
  10. Don’t use a tape recorder, it will effect the way people talk to you about things. Use a pen and paper to take notes and type them up as part of the editing process.
  11. You know enough of a story when the learning curve flattens out.

The non-fiction writing associated with these skills was actually about writing for a magazine more than it was for writing academic papers. The information was intended to start the student on the path to writing engaging pieces of writing about an experience, either your own or someone else’s. From a writing perspective I found the role of the lede and the conclusion to be particularly enlightening. From a developers perspective, recognising the revision process as an opportunity to make better code was really encouraging and will hopefully affect the work I produce in the future.

Obviously there is loads more stuff in the course and what I have written here is very much influenced by my experience. I would recommend checking out the course at Skillshare which was called Creative Nonfiction: Write Truth with Style by Susan Orlean .


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