I make a living writing nonfiction. And, here’s my confession: I sometimes take it for granted.
Nonfiction seldom gives me that jolt of surprise that fiction does–you know, like when you read something you know you wrote, but the first thought that comes into your head is “I wrote that? That’s good!” What nonfiction does do is keep me writing to deadline, make me see how certain words and phrases can make an idea clearer. Nonfiction also makes me listen to what other people want out of my writing, forcing me to come up with clever ways to fill that need. Best of all, nonfiction provides me with regular paychecks.
Still, when I look for challenges like writing contests, I always focus on fiction–just like millions of other writers. I honestly have to say that when I do enter in nonfiction contest categories, I usually place in the top three, regardless of if the contest is local or national. And nonfiction provides me with validations that I cannot possibly get from fiction. For example:
* Helping a 70+ year old man write his fascinating life story
* Discovering in Sunday school class that one of the members has been carrying around a clipping of one of my articles because she wanted to talk to her doctor about it–without even realizing that I had written it.
*Receiving thank-you notes from people I’ve profiled, or local health agencies that appreciate me helping spread information about their cause with my article topics.
This last week, as if the above doesn’t give enough reason, I found I’d won a national award I didn’t even know I was entered in, because my work was read and recognized by people reviewing my College Planner articles for Tulsa Kids Magazine. This is a yearly supplement the editor and I started a few years ago to help educate parents about all the things they needed to be aware of before their high schoolers began the college path. And, of course, since both she and I had kids approaching that new hurdle we suddenly realized how little we knew about the whole process.
Long story short, this became an annual ritual, and just part of my writing year. I didn’t mean to take it for granted, really, but I guess I did just because so much of what I was writing about each time was just reworking what I already knew into a new article. And that’s hard.
So, as much as I appreciated this surprise award, I appreciated more the kick in the pants it gave me, reminding me that people use the information I provide. While it may not be a great gift, it’s one I seem to be pretty good at. Hopefully, it will keep me searching out new and entertaining ways to improve my nonfiction prose in the future.
So, never take a writing project for granted, folks. It may have to come and slap you around a little if you do.