Five Fast And Easy Steps To Writing Nonfiction

Tips for writers on writing nonfiction: how to brainstorm their ideas, organize their material, and create a clear, focused piece on any topic.

Writers trying to make a living with free lance writing, or at least trying to pad the pin money, need to know how to turn their pieces around from a vague idea to a finished product quickly, do research and not waste it, and organize their materials into a readable article with time to spare.

For the purposes of this article, let's assume you've chosen the topic you want to write about and have done any necessary research. Perhaps your research notes are a few scribbled lines, or an index card or two of details. You have an idea of what you want to say, but organizing your material, and knowing where to start have you stymied. Here are some simple steps that experienced and published writers say work for them.

A""BRAINSTORM: On a large sheet of notebook paper, or on your computer screen, make a list of pertinent ideas, facts, theories and research findings you've gathered. Don't second guess yourself or try to place them in any order, just let the intuitive juices flow and jot down everything that comes to mind. It may be a clearly dominant fact, a question, a phrase or bit of color that jumped out at you. My brainstorming list for an article I'm writing about how people use their gardens as spiritual refreshment includes the following:

1-how I find it easy to pray in a garden

2-is it the process or the product that most touches?

3-Three different women, 3 different gardens

4-The clean, sweet smell of cilantro spilling out of the herb bed

5-The sunshine on my back

6-Yoga in the garden

7-Shaw quote"""finding God in a garden, dig in the dirt to find him"

8-How to get started on your own

9-Fills the spiritual vessel

10-Happiness, ecstasy I feel in an English cottage garden

B""Begin to GROUP your list of findings or ideas into three or four groups.

As I began to group my items, I saw that #s 1, 4 and 5 reflected my personal experience, so they were grouped together under I. The Shaw quote, with its bit of dry humor and truth, stood alone to me, as #II. #'s 2 and 5 hit on the common result all my subjects mentioned, so became #III. Forming IV were specific details about my three subjects, #'s 6, 2 and 9. Although #2 seemed to overlap two groups, I left it at first, to see where it best worked out. Finally, I had a hunch as I worked that #10 might make a good ending, and lumped #8 with it, as part of the closing information to provide in group V.

C""Check to consider if you need MORE INFORMATION from your research, or additional research, or even some connecting ideas in each group of material.

Here I realized I needed more specific facts from my research to describe each woman's particular gardening benefits, so I went back to my research and added: #11, ONE woman's meditation space built into her garden, and #12, one woman's use of her garden as a subject of her painting. Both these items I added to Group IV.

At this time I sensed a bit of weakness in my coverage of one subject's garden, so I scheduled another phone interview with her to clarify some points and garner more details. I plugged that information in as #13 under Group IV.

I also readily saw, with my charted outline, that my closing, after making suggestions for readers to follow in starting their own spiritual garden, needed more transition material, probably echoes of #2 and #9, which seemed, after I grouped them, like overriding themes. I so marked Group V and left it with plenty of material for a neat, 2-paragraph summary and closing.

D""ORDER the groups of material, considering which group constitutes a good introduction, which a good middle, and which a decent ending.

Already I had a sense of which material would make for a moving and helpful closing, Group V.

As for an introductory section, at first, I thought I should start the article with my own awareness of my garden and my tendency to pray there. Then I looked at the Shaw quote, Group II, and realized it made a perfect opening""humorous, yet touching and non-threatening. I moved it to the Introduction spot.

Now I had a beginning and an ending. The other three groups clearly made a middle, but in which order should I place them? Perhaps only in the writing could I tell for sure. For the middle section, then, I had three groups of materials:

I, the portion about my own garden,

III, the portion explaining the common results all my subjects experienced, and IV, the specifics of their experiences.

Eventually, this order worked well, but I could have easily changed the order later.

In addition, Group II was the introductory section and Group V the closing.

My garden-spirituality article now had a map, a way to proceed, and even if there was some flexibility allowed as I went, it felt much more "do-able" than it had in the beginning. I no longer felt swamped with an overwhelming amount of data and no clear route to go. Putting meat on the bones of an article's skeleton seems more like fun, when the writer has taken time to outline or organize in this way or some other way.

With enthusiasm, I was now ready to start writing.

E""WRITE each section, being sure to make smooth transitions from one section to the next.

From this point on, the article wrote itself. Occasionally, the outline of an article, or at least which points you want to make and in which order, come to the writer before s/he starts. But when the direction is less clear, and you have what seems like a jumble of only semi-related facts to start with, this 5-step process is a big help. With your first draft in hand, it is not much work to verify that your sections have been placed in the right or wrong order. Make necessary changes in order, add extra detail if needed, sharpen the writing, check for smooth transitions, find a catchy title, unless the publication you're aiming for, such as a newspaper, likes to come up with its own title, and type "The End."

You've BRAINSOTRMED, GROUPED your material, checked for MORE NEEDED INFORMATION, ORDERED your groups of material, and WRITTEN the best article you could write. Congratulations on a piece done using your best skills. It's bound to sell!

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