Dave: Writers are a strange bunch—as if you didn’t already know! But even though fiction writers do odd things like talk about their characters as if they were real (which kind of creeps me out), I think nonfiction writers can be even odder, because their specialty is a quirky combination of artistic creativity and administrative organization.
We all know, of course, that artists tend to be somewhat disorganized and non-linear in their thinking (not to mention their personal life!). Administrators, on the other hand, are skilled at finding a place for everything, and everything in its place. Nonfiction writers, therefore, are somewhat schizophrenic, I suppose!
So if you are a nonfiction writer, but lean more toward the artistic side, you may tend to avoid moving beyond the first step of putting the idea down in words. Some manuscripts look like this was the first and only step—and is the reason they don’t get published. Like it or not, the first way an idea is expressed is usually not the best way. Your first attempt at expressing yourself is likely to be disorganized, and good writing, especially nonfiction writing, involves organizing your thoughts in a clear and unambiguous manner.
Anything that comes out of your brain and straight to paper needs to be rewritten. But if you lean toward the administrative side, you may try to rewrite as you write. You don’t let the words get on paper until you are sure your idea is expressed in just the right way. There’s a sure recipe for writer’s block! Your brain’s capacity is not large enough to hold an idea, rewrite it, and then put it down on paper. Far better to get the idea down on paper as fast as you can (can you say “first draft,” boys and girls?), and then, at a a better time, work on polishing your diamond in the rough.
Knowing that you will rewrite whatever you put down the first time really sets your creative side free. And when you finally get to the rewriting stage, you may discover that you are drawing on your artistic sense even more than at the writing stage—so I guess we nonfiction writers are not so schizophrenic after all. Anyone who says nonfiction is not “creative” must not do much writing!
Whether you write fiction or non-fiction, do you write your first draft without much editing--releasing your creativity?
David E. Fessenden is a literary agent with WordWise Media Services and a publishing veteran, with degrees in journalism and theology, and over 30 years of experience in writing and editing. He has published several nonfiction books and written hundreds of newspaper and magazine articles. The Case of the Exploding Speakeasy, his first novel, reflects his love for history and for the Sherlock Holmes stories of Arthur Conan-Doyle. His latest title is A Christian Writer’s Guide to the Book Proposal, the first in a series of ebooks for Sonfire Media.