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Tips for Writing Nonfiction
Tips for Writing Nonfiction


Nonfiction is simply prose that's based on facts. What's written may or may not be accurate, but the writer believes the story to be true at the time it is written. For example, a biography about a famous person may or may not be completely true, but the author believes it is true at the time.   

The term nonfiction encompasses any written communication that falls under the above definition. It includes reference books, such as encyclopedias, memoirs, true crime stories, biographies, autobiographies, essays, and even articles and editorials that you read in newspapers. 

Writers tend to write for their readers. They write what they believe other people will enjoy reading. However, it's a totally different ball of yarn when you write your memoir.  A memoir is a written account containing the personal experiences of the author. A memoir is a book of you: It includes your memories from your life.You may be documenting them for your kids, grandkids, and even their kids, but this is the story of you. This means you cannot try to write it to please or entertain the people who you think will read it. Instead, you have to write it for yourself. That is the only way to make your memoirs good and interesting – if it's about you and nobody else. 

Figuring out a place to start is the hardest part of writing your memoirs. You have a lot of memories to write about. You don't know which ones you want to include, or which ones you want to leave out. Also, you don't want to write anything that will offend any of your family and friends. First of all, remember that you are writing about you. Do that and you'll find that nothing will be offensive. Secondly, finding a place to start is as easy as a simple exercise.

For this exercise, start out by writing about a 10-year section of your life. Pick any 10-year period. You can break it up like this: childhood, adolescence, young adulthood, married life, etc. Each of those easily encompass 10 years, so start there.

Now, write your memories from those 10 years. Here's the kicker. Your memories from those 10 years cannot be any longer than two pages. If that sounds impossible, let's make it even more challenging. Each sentence you write cannot be any longer than three words. You can't write four words or five words. You can only use three words for each sentence.This makes it easier to get everything out, believe it or not. You're keeping it simple.

Once you're finished, go back and read what you've written. When something you've written stands out to you -- when a memory you've jotted down in a three-word sentence triggers a spark -- and you almost get lost daydreaming about that time, then start writing right at that sentence. You'll be surprised because not everything you write will jump out at you.  

Do this for your entire two pages, or for the entire 10-year period.  Now, do it for another 10-year period.  Before you know it, you'll have your memoirs written.

Here are a few more tips:

·         Keep it simple. Don't try to use flowery language. Just write from memory.

·         Don't try to be a writer. This isn't about your writing ability, it's about you.

·         Write from memory without worrying about spelling, grammar, sentence structure, figurative language, dialogue, or any of that. You can clean it up when you're finished.


A biography is a factual account of someone's life as interpreted by another person.  A biography might be about Whitney Houston, but it will be written by someone else. You don't have to know someone to write a biography about them. You can write a biography about anyone you want. What's more, you can write about any aspect of the person's life.  If you're writing about an actress who's also a mother, you can write a biography about her life as a mother. You do not have to have a person's permission to write their biography. However, you need to make sure that what you write is true according to credible sources, or you can get yourself sued for libel.

It can't be said enough: The important thing about writing a biography is having credible sources that back up anything you write. Let's use an example.

Let's say Alison Smythe is an actress.   You have reason to believe that Alison Smythe used to live on the streets before being discovered, but this information isn't readily available to the public.  It's not something she shares.  You want to write about it, not to discredit her, but to show that her time on the streets prepared her for the tragic roles that she plays.   You can write about that all you want – without credible source #1.   However, you're setting yourself up for libel.

For every statement you make about Alison Smythe, you must have a credible source to back it up.  If you say she ate out of a dumpster, you must have a source who knows this to be fact. Writing a biography is almost scientific. You start out with a theory, then have to find the facts to back it up. 

Biographers, or people who write biographies, sometimes use transcripts of media interviews, oral histories (or spoken facts) from family and those who knew or were closest to the subject, recorded facts, and the work of the person they're writing about to create the biography.  Keep a list of your sources.  Record conversations and keep notes. Only write the facts that sources provide.This is the secret to writing a great biography. 


An autobiography is something that you would write about yourself.  It is a self-biography, and it's simply you telling your own story.  It's different from a memoir. A memoir is an emotional account. An autobiography chronicles events, places, people, and experiences. 

 You don't have to be a professional writer to write your autobiography.  In fact, most people who write autobiographies aren't. You're simply writing down the facts and events that have filled your life.  While a memoir has an emotional aspect, an autobiography deals with facts. 

There are some autobiographies that are now well known and very enjoyable reads. The Diary of Anne Frank is an autobiography, as is Life on the Mississippi by Mark Twain. 

Just like fiction writers, those who write autobiographies display personal style. Formal writing goes by the wayside in favor of adding personality, as well as personal details, and presenting them in a way that represents who you are, as much as the facts themselves do. 

         When you sit down to write your autobiography:

·         List events in your life that you want to include.

·         List details about those events.

·         List people that influenced or shaped you.

·         List how they influenced or shaped you.

·         Stick with the facts about your life.

Also, define an overall purpose for the autobiography.  Do you want to let the world know what made you want to write?    Do you want to let your family know what made you the person you are today?   An autobiography should tell the story of you.   It should shape you and define you and introduce everyone to you, whereas a memoir records your memories.

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