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Website of author and professional editor Rachelle M. N. Shaw. Find information about her books, her editing services, and her blog, From Mind to Paper: On Writing and Editing.

From Mind to Paper: On Writing and Editing

From Mind to Paper is a blog for writers, editors, and those interested in the English language. It covers a multitude of writing topics, from punctuation and grammar to plot development, character development, and world building. In addition to in-depth articles about various writing topics, this blog also has a number of series posts, which are currently being transformed into a nonfiction series on writing.

Nonfiction Writing, Part 2: Incorporating Creativity

Rachelle M. N. Shaw

Certain forms of nonfiction, such as textbooks, are notorious for being dry and drab. That doesn't have to be the case though. Just because something is nonfiction doesn't mean that it can't be creative and interesting. Creative works of nonfiction have a lot to bring to the table and are often quite successful in the publishing industry. Achieving such a feat can be daunting though. Why is including creativity important? Where does one begin in the process? What is considered creative, and what is considered unprofessional?

The Importance of Creative Nonfiction
No matter what the type, writing that is lacking in creativity is dull and hard to digest. Due to its unappealing approach, readers have a hard time focusing and tend to zone out after a while. Not only does this make them less likely to keep reading, it makes the amount of information they process minimal. It's been shown that those who enjoy what they're reading absorb and retain far more of the content than those who don't. So before you share your nonfiction piece with others, read through it yourself. Does it capture your interest with the first page? Do you find yourself wanting to continue reading it after the first few minutes? Both are crucial to the success of your nonfiction work.

Channeling Creativity
1. Study it. How you incorporate creativity into a nonfiction piece depends on the specifics of that piece. Some styles of nonfiction benefit from pictures or charts, others from a bit of humor and trivia. Examine comparable works to get an idea of different layouts. Ideally, content should be logical in sequence with aesthetically pleasing organization. This includes fonts and placement on the page. Studying document design can aid in molding your work into delectable nonfiction. One set of books I recommend for such ideas is the The Non-Designer's Design series by Robin Williams. The series includes The Non-Designer's Type Book and The Non-Designer's Design Book, both excellent books for enhancing documents.

2. Make the content relatable. One of the easiest ways to sprinkle in creativity is to include  information and language that relates to the audience. For example, when writing high school textbooks, include real-life examples that could apply to the students reading them. Insert a small blurb about your own experiences in the subject and what drew you toward it (or away from it). Weave in enjoyable facts. First relate to the audience, then present the information in a unique and creative manner to keep their interest.

3. Have fun while you write! If you're not having fun while writing the piece, chances are that those reading it won't either. If you want your piece to be compelling, give it some luster. Make it completely your own, and don't shy away from including some artistic spontaneity. A clear passion for the subject and confidence in your ability to write both make your piece more favorable.

Drawing the Line
Creativity can certainly transform nonfiction from tiresome to intriguing. However, one can go overboard with originality, causing the work to feel amateurish. So how do you know when you've reached that point, and how do you balance the technical and artistic aspects? If you find yourself doubting whether the design or content of your document really works, take a step back. Examine the project as a whole, then break it down into parts. How does the overall document look? Are the design elements consistent? The same style border, if used, should be repeated throughout. The font for the body of the text should also be uniform. Chapters and titles should be clearly indicated, and the content should be easy to read. If all of these things hold true, but something still seems off, check the structure and mechanics. Does the title draw you in? Is the content engaging? Sometimes taking a look at the underlying skeleton can help set things straight. Having your work stand out is one thing; having it look unorganized or unprofessional is another.