5 Kinds of Nonfiction: Nonfiction Writers Dig Deep

A guest post by Melissa Stewart

Many teachers and students seem to think that writing nonfiction requires nothing more than doing some research and cobbling together a bunch of facts, but nothing could be further from the truth. To dispel this alarming myth, fifty of today’s most celebrated authors for children have come together to share a critical part of the nonfiction writing process that often goes unseen. The result is the illuminating anthology Nonfiction Writers Dig Deep: 50 Award-winning Children’s Book Authors Share the Secret of Engaging Writing

To craft high-quality prose, nonfiction writers have to dig deep. They have to get in touch with their passions and their vulnerabilities and use them to fuel their work. Each book has a piece of the author at its heart, and that personal connection is what drives writers to keep working, despite the inevitable obstacles and setbacks.

The topics nonfiction writers choose, the approaches they take, and the concepts and themes they explore are closely linked to who they are as people and what’s important to them. For these writers, putting the information they collect through their own personal filters and making their own meaning is the secret to crafting engaging nonfiction.

Six of the essays included in Nonfiction Writers Dig Deep feature books published or distributed by Lerner. Consider these brief excerpts:

“There’s a common, crushing misconception that fiction is creative writing drawn from the depths of a writer’s soul, while nonfiction is simply a recitation of facts that any basic robot could spit out. The reality is very different. My personality, my beliefs, and my experiences are deeply embedded in the books I write.” —Laurie Purdie Salas, author of A Leaf Can Be . . . (Millbrook Press, 2012)

“All of my books are very carefully researched, written, and revised. But they are also a little bit weird—like me. [W]eird is a wonder worthy of exploration. It is the thread of gold that has made my life and my career so joyful.” —Kelly Milner Halls, author of Death Eaters: Meet Nature’s Scavengers (Millbrook Press, 2018)

“I had to share my goosebump moment with young people. . . . I want to empower them to be their authentic selves.” —Lee Wind, author of No Way, They Were Gay? Discover Hidden Lives and Secret Loves (Zest Books, 2021)

“Just as fiction authors write about themes that resonate with them, so too do nonfiction authors. My themes first have to light my fire with a personal connection.” —Patricia Newman, author of Sea Otter Heroes: The Predators that Saved an Ecosystem (Millbrook, 2017)

“For me, the juiciest details and most raw emotional connections come from mining my own experiences and listening to the people connected to the actual stories.” —Baptiste Paul, author of I Am Farmer: Growing an Environmental Movement in Cameroon (Millbrook Press, 2015)

“Writers are often told to write what they know. As far as I’m concerned, we should write what we’re passionate about. . . .  I write about women in STEM (science, technology, engineering, math) [to] combine two of my passions—STEM and equal opportunity for all.” —Laurie Wallmark, author of Ada Byron Lovelace and the Thinking Machine (Creston Books, 2015)

In the end, the underlying message of Nonfiction Writers Dig Deep is simple but powerful: To create nonfiction that delights as well as informs, professional writers as well as student writers need to have skin in the game. The goal of this anthology is to share personal stories as well as tips, tools, and activities that can help writers at all levels feel personally invested in their writing.

100 percent of the proceeds from Nonfiction Writers Dig Deep will be divided among the National Council of Teachers for English (NCTE), We Need Diverse Books (WNDB), and the Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators (SCBWI).

Melissa Stewart has written more than 180 science books for children, including the ALA Notable Feathers: Not Just for Flying, illustrated by Sarah S. Brannen; the SCBWI Golden Kite Honor title Pipsqueaks, Slowpokes and Stinkers: Celebrating Animal Underdogs, illustrated by Stephanie Laberis; and Can an Aardvark Bark?, illustrated by Caldecott Honoree Steve Jenkins. She also co-wrote the upcoming titles 5 Kinds of Nonfiction: Enriching Reading and Writing Instruction with Children’s Books. Melissa maintains the award-winning blog Celebrate Science and serves on the Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators board of advisors. Her highly regarded website features a rich array of nonfiction writing resources.

Note from Lerner: This post kicks off a weekly series of guest articles by nonfiction authors about their craft, their process, and their amazing books. Stay tuned each week to learn more by visiting the 5 Kinds of Nonfiction page for poster and flyer downloads, curated booklists and more. You can also follow the Lerner Blog’s 5 Kinds of Nonfiction series, or the hashtag #5KNF on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and LinkedIn.

2 thoughts on “5 Kinds of Nonfiction: Nonfiction Writers Dig Deep

  1. Laura Purdie Salas

    Love this! It’s funny…thinking about why I write in the way that I write has made me much more perceptive about my own approach to books. Now I think I write with even more passion (not to mention efficiency) because it sometimes doesn’t take me as long to find my way in to the topic/story. I’ve learned how to mine my own personality and experiences to make the process of finding my focus/structure easier. Thanks, Melissa!

    1. carolhinz

      Wow, Laura, that’s fascinating. Thanks so much for sharing how thinking about your writing has affected your approach!

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