Why Writing Non-Fiction Could Be Your Calling

Book WritingEvery November, buzz builds in the writing community around National Novel Writer’s Month (known as NaNoWriMo). The mission, for those who choose to accept, is to spend the entire month of November writing a novel, with the ultimate goal of reaching 50,000 words by month’s end. I’m pretty sure my career as a non-fiction author would not exist today if not for NaNoWriMo 2004.

I have always loved to write. Through school I chose creative writing classes as electives and skipped courses like art and home economics (which perhaps explains my total lack of domestic skills). For those of us who love to write, the natural conclusion often leads to chasing the dream of writing the Great American Novel.

And so I embarked on NaNoWriMo, determined to see it through. But by the end of the first week, the experience had kicked my butt. I agonized over trying to reach 50,000 words of cohesive story. I can’t recall how far I got, but everything I wrote was a disaster. That experience forced me to face the fact that I lacked the inspiration to write fiction, which at the time felt like the end of the world.

It took awhile to realize that my great fiction failure of 2004 was one of the greatest things that could have happened to me. I needed an outlet for writing and if it wasn’t going to be fiction, I had to find another option. I flashed back to all the essays I wrote in school. Those always brought my best grades. While working in the Silicon Valley, I took it upon myself to rewrite the sales documentation we were supposed to give customers. I thought I could do it better than an entire marketing department. I was once tasked with writing a three-day training course from scratch. I loved the experience so much that I showed up at work at 6 a.m. each day because I couldn’t wait to tackle the challenge.

Bingo!

It became clear that my calling wasn’t telling made-up stories; it was about crafting non-fiction with the purpose of teaching. I realized that I could take complicated topics, like how to use software or how to market content online, and make them easier to understand.

It’s been nearly ten years since I had that revelation, and to date, I’ve written and published nine books. Aside from the personal fulfillment gained from writing non-fiction, it also launched a career I never expected. After my first book (The Business Startup Checklist and Planning Guide), I started getting invitations to speak, consulting inquiries, and media interviews. I eventually found myself running a full-time marketing business, and in 2008 I launched Authority Publishing so that I could help others bring their non-fiction books to market.

If you ever wonder whether being a non-fiction writer matters in the world, take a step back and look at how much of an impact it can make. We all grew up reading textbooks (non-fiction!). When you want to learn something new, you can almost certainly find a book to show you the way. I’m in the midst of reading the biography of Steve Jobs, which proves the old adage “the truth is stranger than fiction.” It’s wildly interesting.

Though you might read fiction to escape, you usually read non-fiction to learn. My shelves are lined with books that have made a difference in my life, and the vast majority are non-fiction. My education has extended long past school. Authors like Malcolm Gladwell, Joan Didion, Steven Covey, Deepak Chopra, and Dale Carnegie each have their own unique gifts—as important in the world as any novel.

As non-fiction writers, I believe we should embrace our gifts. Most writing groups and communities cater to the fiction writers, so we need to stick together! Our work is just as important and requires just as much talent. It’s simply a different kind of talent. I will never write the Great American Novel. Letting go of that expectation freed me up to follow the path I was meant to find.

What path are you meant to travel?



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3 Comments on "Why Writing Non-Fiction Could Be Your Calling"

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  1. Julie Luek says:

    Stephanie, I had a very similar experience– so much so that I had to laugh reading this post. I’m so glad someone could relate! I too tried NaNo. I too realized that writing fiction is not my bag. I have yet to translate that into a book, but I’ve been published in magazines and Chicken Soup since then.

    I love writing nonfiction, and yes, I love reading nonfiction. Thank you for this post. Sometimes I feel like a lone writer in a sea of fiction authors, but your article helped me realize I’m not alone!

  2. Rosanne says:

    Dear Stephanie,

    I have always loved writing and have had op-eds, essays, and poems published, received accolades and affirmations from relatives and friends + one author of 8 books. The latter simply said, “You have a book to write.” However, most of my writing has been in the form of journaling about special moments with family, vacations, and everyday events. These are usually written through the prism of faith and spirituality. Certification in Pastoral Ministry followed through discernment and ongoing deep involvement in church service and citizen advocacy. Since I am a calligrapher, letters are an important avenue of expression as well.

    Non-fiction is a genuine channel of expression for me. My life spans seven decades so I have had a myriad of life experiences and interests. Working as a realtor for three decades, mothering two daughters, and grandmothering five grandsons, besides being married for fifty two years to the love of my life has rendered many blessings and stories. We are still dynamically in tune with the seasons of living and friends can hardly believe we have weathered so much and yet remain so vital in our home and our individual works.

    But, alas, I feel called to begin another chapter of my particular journey…both as a calligrapher, since the early 1970’s, and a writer. Where to begin is the dilemma. What stories do I tell?

    Thank you for listening.

  3. The paragraph about the essays in school and rewriting company documents: yes yes yes. Been there, done that.

    As a young girl, writing truth was my outlet. I had over two hundred pen pals, and stacks of personal diaries under my bed. I wonder what ever happened to those. I always thought that one day I’d write a novel. Silly me.

    My revelation came from constantly being asked by friends and family to help write this or that, and suddenly realizing that’s what I needed to do; help other people express what they can’t find the words to say. This started me on short-bio writing, which led to biography writing. And yes I still rewrite business documents, only now I’m paid to.

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