Friday, June 5, 2009

Writing non-fiction . . . it ain't as easy as it looks.

By Lonnie Cruse

Yes, my step-mother--the teacher--did teach me not to use the word "ain't." But sometimes I need that word. I need lots and lots of words. So if you have any extra words lying around, I'd be happy to take them off your hands or out of your mouths. Really, really happy.

My writing ability and/or muse has been scarce for several months. Think hen's teeth. A regular blog post here, a newsletter article there, tons of e-mails, but nothing in the way of writing a manuscript. This is partly because I'm already under contract for the second in the Kitty Bloodworth/'57 Chevy series, one edit finished, twiddling my thumbs over the keyboard space bar until the second and final edit arrives and I can work on it. But there is nothing I can actually do with that manuscript until that edit arrives.

The third in the '57 series is finished but needs a major re-write, which I am not disposed to do right this minute. This hour. This day. This week. This month. This year. This decade, which will be over before we know it. But a writer writes. Doesn't she? So what should I write?

For a very long time I've wanted to write a non-fiction book on prayer, for women. I mean, how hard can that be? Particularly when compared to writing fiction? No characters to create, find suitable names for, create a background for, then bring to life, so much so that readers will take up arms and march if the writer so much as harms one fictional hair on the character's head. No settings to carefully research so as not to have one-way streets running in the wrong direction in some major city. And no fictional settings to dream up that will seem real to the reader. No victims to kill off, no murderous method to look into to be certain it's carried out "correctly," no solid alibis to carefully dream up and then just as carefully destroy. No bringing the perp to justice after having her/him confess so all the threads tie together neatly while making it all seem to flow naturally. Whew. This non-fiction project should be easy.

It ain't easy.

I'm still having to carefully research the subject, including doing a survey with as many women as I can. I've bought dozens of books on the subject (to see what others wrote about it, so I'm not doing the same old same old) and my wallet is now a safe haven for moths. I won't bore you with the rest of my research, let's just say, um, it ain't easy.

As with the start of any manuscript, I sat down at the computer, opened a blank document, looked at the blank screen, and my eyeballs froze. Along with my brain. I mean that page is just so, uh, BLANK. So I typed a title, which I won't take time to share, because authors don't always get to use the title they pick. That's up to the publisher, assuming I can find one. One thing that gave me the courage to go past the title page was having a friend who is contracted to a publisher who is looking for this kind of book. Possibly a toe in the door? We shall see.

Next I did a table of contents (or TOC to those of you who figured out those initials before I did.) That kind of helps me focus on what I want in each chapter. Gives me something to hang my ideas on. So off I go with chapter one.

And I quickly discovered that non-fiction has the same saggie baggie middle that fiction is so famous for and so dreaded by writers. You know how you want to start the book, and how you want it to end, but what in the world are you going to say on all those pages between all those chapters? Eeek!

Don't even get me started on footnotes, cross references, bibliographys, or an ibid, (anybody remember that dreaded word from high school? I'm not even going there in this book.)

So like any intelligent writer suffering from writing willies, I don't buckle down first thing every day to write. Instead, I check e-mail. Do dishes. Start laundry (which gives me an excuse thirty minutes later to stop and fold same.) Eat. Drink my tea. Ask myself why in the world I ever started this project in the first place. Ask myself who would ever want to read it, assuming I can get it published. Which reminds me that this is the very same angst I feel when writing fiction.

Then the book actually starts to come together, or maybe even take off in a direction the writer hadn't expected. I certainly didn't expect it. But I like it. I might even be on to something, assuming I can stop folding laundry long enough to finish typing it.

Writers who can sit down at their computers, spit out a wonderful manuscript, fire it off to their editors, and get it into print with few, if any, edits, are extremely rare. And extremely likely to be whacked over the head and dropped into an empty elevator shaft if caught bragging about it. Most of us push ourselves through the hard parts, stressing over each and every chapter, particularly those in the saggie baggie middle. Stressing over whether we can finish it, whether or not a publisher will be willing to publish it, or if readers will be willing to read it. Yet we do the job over and over. Because we have to. Because we have stories to tell, be they fiction or non-fiction.

Still, it ain't as easy as it looks.


Elizabeth Spann Craig said...

It sounds incredibly difficult to me. The research required would be so time-consuming; it's like writing a term-paper that's on steroids. Good for you for trying something different...
Mystery Writing is Murder

Lonnie Cruse said...

Thanks, Elizabeth, it is a bit like a term paper. I hope I get a good grade!