I’m honored to review Trish Nicholson’s Writing Your Nonfiction Book: The Complete Guide to Becoming an Author. The New Zealander’s writing career spans 30 years as columnist, feature writer for national media, and author of narrative nonfiction on a range of subjects. She also writes short fiction, winning several international competitions, and recently completed a successful workshop tour coaching writers in the UK and Netherlands.
Lots of authors slap a subtitle on their book assuring potential readers they’re about to read “the complete guide” to some subject or another. Trish Nicholson used those three heady words and with good reason.
Writing Your Nonfiction Book: The Complete Guide to Becoming an Author does in three highly detailed parts what you would want a how-to manual to do, and that’s pair essential advice with practical instructions (and a bit of wit along the way).
I respect honesty and directness, and so appreciated Nicholson starting early by coaxing authors to clarify a purpose for their project before diving in. “The way you approach this stage depends on your reasons for writing a book,” she writes. Is it for financial success? For the sheer love of your subject? “The choice is yours,” she continues, “but you do need to make one, so that you can lay the right foundations.”
Her well-thought-out blueprint is for the serious-minded: She tells you how to write every day, manage your time wisely, and adapt to the whims of the ever-changing publishing world. Yet beginners won’t feel overwhelmed. Along the way there are instructions for using computer programs most efficiently, tips for asking the right questions during interviews, and suggestions for storytelling techniques.
When talking about ideas for structuring different genres, Nicholson not only offers ideas for those genres (travel, histories, memoir, self-help, educational) but examples in each, showing how various framing devices – such as dividing material into chapters that follow the four seasons – have been used successfully in works already published.
No matter how much experience you have as a writer, Writing Your Nonfiction Book offers necessary encouragement for making it through rough patches with your project still in play. My favorite: “…no such dramatic and life-threatening condition as ‘writer’s block’ exists. Instead, tiredness, despondency and distractions can temporarily interfere with our inner desire to write.”
I find that sort of assessment realistic rather than strict, and laughed out loud on more than one occasion while reading. Like when she suggested setting up a “swear box” on your desk into which you pay a fine every time you write “really,” “very,” or other weak and useless word. The point? You just might accumulate enough money to pay for an editor once the first draft is done.
A glossary of common writing, printing and publishing terms at the end of the book is tremendously helpful for writers who want to know the difference, for instance, between creative nonfiction and narrative nonfiction. That’s preceded by Nicholson’s recommendations for useful websites and books.
My takeaway from this book is that we are all trainable humans who, with the right path set before us, can believe more fully in both our project and ourselves. As Nicholson puts it: “Celebrate every small success, learn from each setback, and stay your course.”
Committed writers can’t ask for better advice than that.
On a personal note: The book ends with a quote commonly attributed to Johann Wolfgang von Goethe, which ends, “Boldness has genius, power and magic in it.” That quote is on my refrigerator, in the form of a magnet I gave to my husband before we climbed Mount Kilimanjaro together in 2008. I can attest to the validity of that statement, and know in my heart that believing in it as writers can help us reach unimagined heights.
To order a copy of the book reviewed here, visit: http://www.bookdepository.com/Writing-Your-Nonfiction-Book-Trish-Nicholson/9781784620660