Wednesday, May 29, 2013

WRITERLY WISDOM: Donna L Martin




Non-Fiction: Researching Your Options
by Donna L Martin

I've been thinking for a long time about dipping my fingers into the non-fiction waters.  You would think writing picture books, middle grade chapter books and young adult novels along with my essays and poetry would be enough to keep me busy.  But I've always had a fascination with non-fiction, particularly when it involves the historic lives of unique individuals.  There are many wonderful non-fiction authors out there and I imagine just as many talented wannabe non-fiction writers in this writing community.

But where to start?

Last week Tina M Cho showed us an excellent way to create a proposal letter to whet an editor's appetite for our stories.  But what if you are only starting out with an interest in writing non-fiction?

Where do you go from there?

Here is one plan on tackling your first non-fiction manuscript:

Choose A Topic

You can't write a story without an idea.  What interests you?  Historical figures?  Science? Nature?  Travel?  Pick a topic that fascinates you.  Something you might know a little bit about or something of which you know nothing at all.  Non-fiction writing requires a healthy amount of research and by the end of it, you will in some small way become an expert on your chosen topic.

Outline Your Chapters

While some fiction stories can be written at a drop of the hat, non-fiction stories require much more planning otherwise you will simply drone on and on about your topic while getting nowhere.  A publisher will want to know what each chapter will be about and the more detailed you are about how you will cover your chosen topic makes the actual writing that much easier when the time comes.

Plan Out Your Research

Think of how you will learn everything you need to know about your chosen topic.  Depending on your particular story idea, there will be a number of ways to go about researching the subject of your manuscript.  At the end of this post I will list various resources to help you with your non-fiction research.  Make sure you have index cards or a notebook for taking good notes or even a tape recorder for live interviews.

Stay Organized

There must be a method to your research.  A way to categorize your notes and organize your research so that you can properly document your sources.  Fiction dwells only in the imagination of the writer.  Non-fiction, even fictionalized non-fiction, must be based on documented facts which any good editor will ask for  when requesting to see your manuscript.

Write, Revise, & Submit

Once you have created your chapter outline, completed your research, organized your notes, and documented your sources, it is now time to write your first draft.  After many revisions, critiques from writing partners, and editing for content and accuracy, your manuscript will be ready for submission to a publishing house.  Time to celebrate a job well done and time to start researching your next non-fiction topic!


As promised, here are a list of potential resources to help you research different non-fiction story ideas:

1.  Interview local experts
2.  Local & out of town newspapers
3.  Public libraries
    a. Research rooms
    b. Online databases
    c. Microfilm
    d. Microfiche
    e. Archived magazines & newspapers
4.  Universities
5.  Museums
6.  Books already published on your idea (how will YOUR story be unique?)
    a. Public & university libraries
    b. Amazon.com
    c.  BN.com (Barnes & Noble)
7.  Local & national corporations
8.  Government agencies
9.  Local & national organizations
10. Library of Congress
11.Smithsonian Institution
12.The National Archives
13. National Geographic Society
14. National magazines
15. Associationas & socities
16. Research institutes
17. Internet
18. Foreign embassies
19. Local businesses
20 Specialized libraries (like presidential)

The resources are out there.  It is our job as writers of non-fiction to search out and discover those little known facts about the topics which interest us and present them in a way to fascinate our readers.

No matter the topic, keep writing and have fun with it!






Blog:  www.donnalmartin.com
Email:  www.donasdays@gmail.com






19 comments:

  1. Hi Donna .. some good tips here and ideas to think about as the process develops - good luck with the starting point for your non-fiction .. lots of resources here ..

    Cheers Hilary

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    1. Hi Hilary! I already have a couple of ideas and REALLY want to expand into non-fiction but I need to know I can devote the right amount of time into order to create my BEST story...otherwise I won't do it...;~)

      Thanks for stopping by and come back any time!

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  2. Hey Donna,

    This can also be applied to new writers altogether. I'm just starting to get my feet wet and lay out a plan for my freelance writing business and hope to do mostly non-fiction. I believe this will be helpful to people like me as well as established fiction writers wanting to branch out into the non-fiction scene. Thanks for sharing.

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    1. Hi there! I've visited your blog so I presume I'm replying to the lovely phyllis...;~)

      Thank you for your kind words. I really hope this series is helpful to people like myself who are just starting out and are learning about the industry.

      Thanks for stopping by and come back any time!

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  3. Nice post, Donna. Some really great planning tips here! I love writing fiction, but I do have an idea for a non-fiction that I love!!! Maybe this will encourage me to write it. So thanks!

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    1. Hi Penny! I'm glad you found this post helpful...good luck with your non-fiction idea..may it take you on a wonderful journey!

      Thanks for stopping by and come back any time!

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  4. Why not write an autobiography of your life so far? By the way, it is shocking to me just how much you look like my wife's sister. When I first saw that picture of you at the end of this piece, I actually wondered how you got a hold of a picture of Leslie.

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    1. Hi Jerry! I think I will take it as a compliment that I seem to look like your sister-in-law...lol. As for the autobiography idea, everybody seems to think THEIR life would be worthy of a story...for myself, I have some interesting moments people would find fascinating but is it enough to hold a reader's interest for long? Not so sure...;~)

      Thanks for stopping by and come back any time!

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    2. If you have the time someday, I would sure love for you to at least read The Crackerhead Chronicles, which is an abbreviated account of my life so far. It can be read for free online, and it has been Kindled.

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    3. Hi Jerry! I read a few posts of the Crackerhead Chronicles and I found we have a few things in common including being part Cherokee, both our mothers being raised in Arkansas and some other tidbits quite interesting...;~)

      Thanks for stopping by and come back any time!

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    4. Thank you for taking the time, and I am glad you enjoyed what you read.

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  5. The bunny rabbit is adorable, but it's great to finally put your face with your name, Donna.

    The minute I started reading your post, I got a great idea. I had been talking to my hubby just the other day about a subject with which I'm already well-versed. Now, the light bulb just went off!

    Thanks for this. I'm constantly learning from your posts and have got to tell you that your blog is one of my favorites. :0) - Donna L Sadd

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    1. Awww, Donna, that means a lot to me! I have spent many hours trying to offer the best informative and inspirational posts as I can. It is nice to know people actually benefit from some of my ideas. Good luck with your non-fiction idea!

      Thanks for stopping by and come back any time!

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    1. Hi, Erik! I hope you can use this info to your advantage one day...;~)

      Thanks for stopping by and come back any time!

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  7. Great advice, Donna. The key for a nf book is coming up with a fresh, unique angle on a nf topic! Lately, I've been doing lots of nf writing for an educational publisher, and let me tell you, NF IS HOT right now. So find a topic, unique angle, and WRITE IT!

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    1. Hi Tina! I came across a fabulous event that happened many years ago. I had never heard anything about it and I originally could only find two small newspaper articles about it. I'm going to do some more research now because I think it would make a GREAT nf picture book...

      Thanks for stopping by and come back any time!

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  8. Great post, Donna, thanks! I need to compile a list of online resources - links I can keep easily on hand so it's easy to hop over and research!

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    1. Hi Susanna! I would love to expand into the non-fiction arena. I was given info on a historical event that is so fascinating to me I would love to research it more and write a story about it...;~)

      Thanks for stopping by and come back any time!

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