Monday, February 8, 2021

Celebrating our Writing Skills

Ah, the joy of telling a story. Too often writers think only of the creative writing process, but while the joy of being able to write a good fiction story, can be challenging, the joy of writing a non-fiction story can be just as rewarding. Too often we don’t give ourselves enough credit for what we have learned as fiction writers and we don’t realize that those lessons can be equally applied to non-fiction. We ignore our ability to produce a coherent piece of educational information or humorous true story that others might enjoy reading. We often don’t allow ourselves to utilize or celebrate the special joy of what we have taken the time to learn about the basics of writing beyond our fiction work.  

When it comes right down to it, the writing process is not easy and as fiction writers, we may be constantly studying the craft and for certain we are practicing it every time we sit down to write another story. What we don’t realize is that for many people writing non-fiction can be just as profitable and as creative as writing fiction and we’re already working at becoming better at it every time we write. Too often writers don’t give ourselves enough credit for the writing work we do on a daily basis.  Whether we’re lamenting not getting our word count done for the day, or worrying about reaching new audiences or really reaching for the pinnacle of success as a best-selling novelist we forget that we have been given a special gift already—our writing skills.

Whether we’re writing promotional snippets or blurbs, or query letters or we write a blog, writing is a major part of our daily lives. This is a skill we should not only celebrate but that we can also use to write articles or pieces that many people can enjoy reading. Even if they don’t enjoy it, that could mean you’ve touched a nerve with your writing but you’re still reaching others emotionally and that takes a special skill tool.

            My sister has worked in the computer field all her life and she has often told me that while she cannot imagine sitting down and making up a fictional story, much less being able to get it down on the written page, she still needs to be able to write in her work. Because of that she has had to take the time to study and learn to be a better writer. Now she also tells me that her boss is constantly picking her to do certain jobs because she has become a good writer. She has a special sense of being able to recognize what needs to be said and then the ability to get it written down and passed along to others. This is the sort of skill we as writers possess or –like my sister—that we study and should continually celebrate. We can complain about a scene not coming together today, but when it does, we will be ready to write it. We will have the knowledge and the skill and the ability to write. 

            Writing fiction and non-fiction are two separate skills but they can build on each other 

and if  you can create a novel you can probably also write non-fiction. For more than forty years my day job was writing non-fiction as a newswriter, TV producer and later a public relations writer and manager. There was no waiting for creativity to strike. I was given base material and I just plain had to write and produce a news story or a press release. Those are the challenges of being a non-fiction writer where you have to automatically be ready to put words, sentences and paragraphs together that make sense and get a point across.

            But if you are already working as a fiction writer you know most of the basics of putting a story together already. You have been studying and perfecting that craft every day, probably without thinking about it. And what you may not realize is that you’re also gathering information that can be useful in non-fiction stories to promote your work.

            Where do you get some of that information to use? Or how can you use it? Let’s start with gathering the information. Let’s face it, we are often gathering research material for our stories – whether it’s about the historical town where you want to set your story to learning about the local bakery where your characters work. Or perhaps you’re studying a particular time period. Even if you’re making up a story about a spaceship on a trip to Mars, there will be material you might need to research. Writing fictional suspense stories might send you to the library to learn about local mystery or murder tales or you might have to get in touch with the local police department and perhaps take a citizen law enforcement class. Learning about these areas can always provide great blogs, but there might also be places where you can sell that story or you can use it as part of the publicity for your own book.

Community newspapers, short magazine articles, even small neighborhood newsletters can be outlets for your writing. Whether you are writing a magazine story, a piece for a publication or a scholastic or a business letter, the world of non-fiction writing exists out there where you least think about it. That doesn’t even include the world where I worked for those years – in a newsroom where as a young 21-year-old I was handed a piece of wire copy and told to write a story that ran at least thirty seconds or a reporter’s scribbled notes and told to put it together into a coherent story or had to make phone calls to several people to get facts and then compose them into a coherent story. Oh, and get that done in the next fifteen minutes and go find the video to go with those words. Ah yes, the joy of writing news and especially television news, didn’t leave much time to search for just the right word much less get into the proper frame of mind.

            Learning the basics of putting a sentence together is invaluable because once you know how to do it right, then you can start playing with those other little toys, like vocabulary or making the words sing. There’s nothing like reading a well-written story, whether it is fiction or non-fiction. You know when you’re in the realm of a special writer.

            Why write non-fiction when you’re work is in fiction? For me the answer is simple. It expands my horizons, and then writing fiction can be the fun part. But not always. After retiring from writing for news programs and even writing newsletter articles for several school districts and news releases for several city governments, I agreed to write historical biographies for the Colorado Women’s Hall of fame. It started with a video piece on the historic deeds of women in Colorado and then moved into re-writing short biographies for the web and for a program. But the joy of learning about the famous women was just part of the fun. Making each piece a celebration of that woman’s life was a real joy to me as a writer. When I was later asked to help produce longer pieces on some of these remarkable women, I naturally said yes.

But learning about their lives in the early 1900s or as women trying to break through the glass ceiling in medicine or politics, also inspired me as a fiction writer. My latest book I am working on has become a time travel, set back in those historic times, using some of the research I gathered as I worked on my historical pieces, but also in building and creating fictional characters who can become symbols of those real life women I studied. The final result was working for several years on half hour documentaries that aired on the local PBS affiliate and winning several Emmy awards in the process.

Whether it’s writing a report or a letter, we don’t think of the importance of knowng how to put words together. As writers we just seem to do it. And don’t  let negative reactions or criticism ever stop you.  I remember on one of my early newspaper articles as a young college reporter, someone sent a letter to the editor calling me a “half-baked” reporter.  I was hurt and to make matters even worse, my editor published it as an answer to the story I had written. I don’t remember if I was right in the end, but the criticism made me think and made me a better reporter. I was going to be more careful next time I asked questions and no one was ever going to call me “half-baked” again. That letter also helped me in future years when I might review a half-hearted review from a reader for one of my fiction pieces.

Whether you’re writing a poem for yourself, a novel for a multi-faceted audience, or a piece for the community newspaper, I say celebrate yourself! The joy of being able to write is also a gift not everyone has. It’s a gift that often times others see but we don’t recognize or realize enough.  Even when we are lamenting that we didn’t meet that word count or that we don’t like what we’re writing at the moment, we need to remember, this is a skill many other people don’t have.

The main objective is to KEEP writing! Today I am waiting to hear from my editor on the manuscript I just turned in. But I am also already working on my next project – make that several projects – as the writers’ world keeps spinning on… just like the tales we tell.

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