Non-fiction demands as much creativity and imagination as fiction
When people are thinking about writing for the first time, I would say that most of them are drawn towards writing something fictional: a short story to start with, or, if they’re feeling brave, a novel. Few aspiring writers consider non-fiction and I often wonder why.
Perhaps non-fiction is mistaken for a dry tome of facts rather than an imaginatively researched, creatively written book that can be about absolutely anything. Think about every section of your favourite bookshop that isn’t fiction: History, Music, Film, Self-help, Psychology, Parenting, Travel, Memoirs, Architecture, Pets, Comedy, Social History, Education, Gardening…
Choose to write non-fiction and you can write about your passion for walking in the Alps, your experience of single parenthood, your battle with anxiety, your love of dogs, your obsession with Emily Dickinson or Joan of Arc or Medusa. You can write about the journey you made across Scotland by bike, the letters you found in an attic or your experience of being in care. You can write about someone else’s life, travels and experiences, or explore your own thoughts on mountains, monsters and myths. You can interview mavericks and despots, those determined to bring change and those who are resistant to it. You can inspire, teach, amaze and warn. You can share your hard-worn experience so that others don’t have to suffer, or make comedy out of your own foibles and challenges. You can trace the history of a photograph or research the life of a dragonfly.
Some of the best books of the last decade, have been, in my mind, non-fiction. I loved Raynor Winn’s first book, The Salt Path, about the walk she and her husband went on along the South West Coast Path. She writes about homelessness, her husband’s life-limiting illness, the kindnesses of strangers and the beauty of the landscapes they’re forced to call home. It’s a brilliant read. Entirely personal. But, and this is crucial when writing something so autobiographical, it inspires, moves and resonates with readers; there's a connection between writer and reader.
I’m also a huge fan of Edmund de Waal’s The Hare with Amber Eyes, a family biography told by tracing the history of a netsuke collection; Adam Kay's eye-opening book about being a Junior Doctor working in Gynaecology and Obstetrics: This is Going to Hurt; Cheryl Strayed's brave book, Wild, about walking solo after hitting rock bottom, and Matt Haig’s kind and gentle Reasons to Stay Alive. These are all brilliant, life-affirming books, each of them as imaginative and beautifully written as anything fictional you will read.
So whatever your passion, whether its octopuses, church architecture or allotments, don’t overlook the creative challenges and joys that come with writing non-fiction. Give it a go!