True stories, well told


Over the course of my writing career, I’ve encountered many challenges as I sought to continue to improve myself. The innate talent was present, however, it lacked finesse. Although I specialized in human resources, my main interest remained writing, which landed me in the world of books and literature. Sadly, then (and even now), Pakistan had no education or career, in the field of creative writing or editing. So I am writing this article with the intention that it will be both educational for me and for you, as I dare to approach various non-fiction writers who have mastered the art of writing creative non-fiction.

Does writing fiction and non-fiction have anything in common? After all, their goals are fundamentally different. One wants to entertain, the other essentially educates and informs. In general, it is assumed that non-fiction is easier to write, mainly because you don’t have to invent anything to write it. The events, people and ideas to write about already exist. However, as easy and accessible as it sounds, trust me when I say it’s not. Stories told in non-fiction works must be true. It must contain facts. It needs to be checked. It’s hard because getting it right matters, details matter, facts matter, and there’s often a lot of detail. Often, it takes years to sort and organize them. There is so much information available today through the internet that it can be overwhelming for some readers. To counter this influx, people started reading only the introduction of a content or skimming over the chapters or subtitles included in it. This means that non-fiction should immediately engage readers to encourage them to invest in your work. And we can’t force an understanding of the layers of emotions, data and evidence. Another problem is that non-fiction is difficult for readers to read. Bad nonfiction plays are too factual and prosaic. (Think of the last academic paper you read. Repeat!). Let’s check out the pros to find out what makes an extraordinary nonfiction story.

Farah Bashir, author of spring rumors

Writing is essentially a lot of reading. Read great writers. Almost every article you read about how to improve your writing will start with the following advice: to be a better writer, read great writers. Good writing is simply not possible without reading. Read for inspiration; grasp the art of language; learn effective writing techniques; appreciate the nuances of the words. The creative process involves creating a body of notes, short paragraphs that eventually evolve into chapters. Between each revision, edition, as I let the manuscript breathe, I read again the authors who had written on similar subjects. For me, women writers paved the way for finding my style for writing memoirs and a specific genre – reading is what I chose during those breaks in between.

My book, Rumors of Spring, came out during the second wave of the pandemic. We were in the midst of immense grief. As I took care of myself by limiting all human interaction, I relied heavily on social media and used specific channels to keep the book present and accessible after the wave.

There are no hard and fast rules about writing a memoir or autobiography, but what fundamentally connects a writer to their readers is the universality of the spectrum of human emotions. It’s what readers respond to on a level that’s not even within your powers as a writer.

Shahida Wizarat, author of The rise and fall of industrial productivity in Pakistan and Fighting Dependency: Proclaiming the Sovereignty of an Enslaved Pakistan

Writing non-fiction for a non-technical audience involves some important points to keep in mind. For example, the topic should be topical and the issues to be covered should grab the attention of the audience. These need to be dealt with. Mathematical models and equations should be avoided as people will close their minds as it would seem too technical. Every industry has certain terms and jargons that are regularly used. When writing non-fiction, you should avoid these terms at all costs. You can’t assume your reader will know what “juxtaposition of strongly dissimilar elements” means if you’re writing about chemistry. They often employ a certain “code” of complex sentence structures and foreign words to make them more believable and expert. The art of conveying difficult concepts in simple language must be learned to convey technical concepts in language understandable to the public. Have you ever abandoned an article or instruction manual because its phrases frustrated you? If you have great content, don’t encrypt it. Deliver even more value to your reader by cutting content into easy-to-digest bites. You may not be able to remove all possible technical terms, but you must make an effort as a writer to make the facts you are discussing as understandable as possible. All too often, the list of facts, knowledge and wisdom comes across as outdated and boring. It doesn’t have to be that way. Mistakes authors who write non-fiction can make are that they write about a topic that is not of general interest, such as writing about the cost of producing steel pipes. This would only concern people interested in the cost of production or the price of steel tubes, not the general public.

Tariq Khan, author of Leadership in changing times

Writing a book is on a wish list for many, but only a few understand the intricacies that unfold once you start writing the book. Many beginning authors underestimate the commitment required to produce a quality document. Different people write books for different reasons. Some authors think they have a great story, some think they have great experiences, and some think they have great content that readers can benefit from. In my experience, here is the process one may want to follow:

  1. Clarify your purpose for writing the book
  2. Identify your audience (potential readers)
  3. Do your research and make a plan
  4. Expand your timeline
  5. Adapt it to current events and take into account the shelf life of your book

Writing fiction is quite different from writing a professional development book, as is writing a textbook (which is an entirely different approach requiring extensive research as well as case studies). An author should always do a self-analysis to find out if they are willing and able to develop content that can interest people. Many successful professionals often think that their professional success will also translate as an author. This may not be the case. Always talk to other authors to manage your expectations and write the book for others, not yourself. Getting a good editor is always an added value.

Dr Muhammad Imran, author of Islamic Finance 101

Writing nonfiction is difficult, not because the author can’t, but because what the author usually wants to write doesn’t necessarily engage readers. The most popular non-fiction are usually biographies, whether in English or Urdu – it’s important to realize that the story should be captivating enough for the reader, no matter how ordinary. If you have a stack of facts to offer people, it can be difficult to craft a narrative that keeps the reader engaged. That’s the constant challenge that comes in the world of nonfiction writing and editing. The most common mistake authors make is that they themselves write about what they want to read and assume the audience would like to read it too. However, this is usually not the case. Many think they’ve written a masterpiece, which surely it must be, but there’s no doubt they feel frustrated once they find the book hasn’t sold well. Your nonfiction book should tell a story, because that’s how we’re designed to remember things. You can turn facts into a compelling story by offering your personal experiences, showing people examples of what you’re talking about, or offering a comparison process.

For example, you are writing a book about the benefits of quitting a long-term smoking habit. If you share a quick story about someone who saw their health improve after quitting smoking, you’re turning the facts into a story. Use powerful words that go beyond mundane descriptions like interesting or engaging. If something is magical, superlative, or vibrant, you will invoke a powerful mental visual of your facts that will help the reader relate better to the text. If you can add an unexpected touch, you can make your text stand out. Offer a fact that is not intended. Ask questions that may not have been anticipated. Follow up a key point with something that may seem contradictory, then reconcile the facts. Moreover, most of the marketing in this industry is basically done by the author. He/she must take responsibility as the publishing industry in Pakistan is more or less stagnant except for a few few people. It is important to keep the content of the publication oriented towards the reader (whether it is surprise, humor, emotion or facts that the author must write), otherwise it will not resonate with His public.

About Homer Yonker

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