While I write a lot on this blog about writing fiction, many authors work in the realm of non-fiction. Histories, biographies, and science-based writings all need the same time, energy, effort, and commitment from their authors as fiction does.
When it comes to being a self-aware writer in the non-fiction genre, a few more aspects must be considered than with fiction.
Let’s talk about them.
Self-Awareness and Bias
We are all biased for and against different things. It’s just part of being human. But being aware of one’s biases makes a huge difference, and we can work to change those biases we can identify as negative. When writing about a real topic, you have to pause and examine your current biases, perspectives, and opinions about the subject you are covering. What you think you know is likely incorrect or inaccurate, and you need to be willing to change your thinking to effectively write about the chosen topic.
- Are my primary views on this topic positive or negative?
- What basic information have I learned about this topic before researching?
- What do I know about the key people involved in this subject? Do I have any opinions about them – positive or negative – based on what I know?
- Can I set aside my personal views and opinions to write a fact-based narrative on this subject?
Unfortunately, we live in a world where misinformation and disinformation about almost every topic are as available as the facts, so it’s important to take your time to find the truth about the subject you’re writing about. It’s also important to avoid confirmation bias, which “is the tendency to look for information that supports, rather than rejects, one’s preconceptions, typically by interpreting evidence to confirm existing beliefs while rejecting or ignoring any conflicting data (American Psychological Association).”
The self-aware writer understands that they’re human and will have opinions, biases, and views that may contradict or conflict with truths they discover about a topic you’re researching. While you may not like the facts, it’s important not to dismiss, skew, hide, or omit them from your work to remain truthful and ethical.
The Self-Aware Non-Fiction Writer at the Computer
Much like the fiction author, as a non-fiction writer, you’ll want an outline that helps you navigate the topic you’re writing about. Most topics can be covered from dozens of angles, so it’s important to pick one of two and stick with them throughout your manuscript. Just because you’re choosing an angle doesn’t mean you’re skewing the facts or history to meet your needs or biases. Suppose you use a historical figure who was there during the events you’re discussing. In that case, you tell the story through their eyes and experiences.
The drafting process also requires a keen self-awareness as you ensure that your personal views, beliefs, and biases don’t infringe on the narrative. If you feel compelled to write your opinion about the topic, write those views elsewhere and utilize them as part of an Afterword or final comments at the end of the manuscript.
The editing process for non-fiction should be met with plenty of fact-checking, double-checking quotes and how names and locations are spelled, and making sure the narrative flows clearly and accurately from one chapter to the next. Like fiction, spelling, and grammar should be top-of-mind as well. Misspelled words in non-fiction have a tendency to hurt the author’s credibility.
Regarding feedback, the self-aware writer should look for readers who know and don’t know the topic. Again, like we discussed with fiction, have specific questions for the reader to consider as they work their way through. You want to ensure you get clear and helpful feedback to help you clarify any problem areas to further improve the reading experience.
How can being a self-aware writer help us deal with failure? We’ll talk about it.
Happy Writing, and I’ll see you next time!