Friday, May 28, 2010

Narrative Use in Nonfiction Writing

Guest post by Linda Aragoni

We all love stories. Whether they are in a Golden Book, on the big screen at the mall, or heard at the water cooler, stories cast a spell. They take us outside our comfortable world to places we've never been, introduce us to people we'd never otherwise meet, thrill us with adventures we'd be terrified to have in person, and allow us to laugh openly at stupidity in high places. Stories make us cry, laugh, or simply think.

Although we tend to think of storytelling in terms of fiction, nonfiction writers must be able to tell a story well, too. Here are some nonfiction settings where narration is routinely used.

Nonfiction books

Many nonfiction books are narratives. Biographies and autobiographies tell true stories of peoples' lives. History books are, at least in broad outline, narratives. Many travel books are largely narrative.


Some business reports contain narratives. It is not uncommon for a company's annual report to include a narrative about the ups and downs of the company's fortunes the past year. Discussions of experiments, tests, procedures, and inspections may also be presented as narratives.

Case studies

Case study articles in professional publications are basically stories told by spokespeople for businesses or organizations. The business or organization is the "hero" of the story. The story opens with the organization facing a problem. It tells options the organization considered. Then it traces attempts to solve the problem and describes their success. Usually the case study ends with lessons learned or with recommendations for others faced with a similar situation.


Besides such major uses of narration, we routinely find narration used in the form of anecdotes in works whose main purpose is to entertain or persuade. An anecdote is a short, interesting story, usually personally or biographical, told to emphasize a point. Anecdotes illustrate, explain, and humanize content, making it memorable. Often the anecdote is remembered long after its point is forgotten.

Advertising and public relations

Narration is also a staple of advertising and public relation appeals. A story can touch our hearts as no amount of impersonal prose can. Testimonials from a basketball star or rock vocalist get us to drink milk or ask for a particular brand of athletic shoe. Stories of sick children, abandoned puppies, and poor but valiant mothers make us open our pocketbooks to help. In such cases the anecdote is employed as a persuasive tool.

Writer-editor and writing teacher Linda Aragoni has told hundreds of nonfiction narratives over her career. As host of the website You-Can-Teach-Writing, she helps teachers find appropriate ways to incorporate narrative writing prompts into English language arts classes for grades 7 and beyond. Copyright 2010, Linda Gorton Aragoni.

Thursday, May 27, 2010

A Writer's Life - Evaluating Your Work Habits

Guest post by Harriet Hodgson

Writing habits develop consciously and unconsciously. You may have established firm writing habits, habits that you live by daily. As time passes, however, it is easy to stray from these habits or get lazy about them. Poor work habits can hinder your output. Some writers, for example, are terrible procrastinators, and others constantly miss deadlines.

Is it time to evaluate your writing habits?

You may start with Stephen R. Covey's book, "The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People." His list of essential habits may be applied to writing. The list includes being proactive, using your mind, putting first things first, thinking like a winner (essential for freelancers like me), understanding and being understood, synergy, which includes leadership, and what Covey calls "sharpening your saw," or evaluation.

Recently I decided to evaluate my work habits. I listed them on paper and kept the list short. My work habits are:

* Write daily, even if it is for only 5-10

* Make learning part of every day.

* Hone my writing instincts and trust them.

* Do careful research.

* Give credit when credit is due.

* Read work aloud to check clarity and flow.

* Keep adding new words to my vocabulary.

* Stay in my writing niche, but do not be confined by it.

* Explore different kinds of writing.

* Set new goals and work towards them.

* Network via the Internet and conferences.

* Be kind to myself.

Though these habits may change or expand in the months to come, they are still the crux of my writing career. During my 30+ years as an independent journalist I have worked hard and tried not to shoot myself in the foot, another term for sabotage. Gail Solish writes about self-sabotage in her Idea Marketers website article, "3 Habits That Sabotage Workplace Success."

These habits are never feeling good enough, avoiding conflict, and poor boundaries. When you get a reject slip it is easy to lose confidence. If this happens (and it has happened to me), you need to have a talk with yourself and ask three questions. Why do I write? What are my goals? Do I enjoy writing?

Savvy writers try to avoid conflict, but sometimes conflict is unavoidable. Years ago an editor asked me to do something that would harm my manuscript. I refused. He called the publisher and the publisher called me. During our conversation I spoke briefly and unemotionally. At the end of the call the publisher agreed with my decision.

Poor boundaries in a writer's life may include not citing resources, failure to attribute, not respecting confidentiality and, I am sorry to say, plagiarism. According to Solish, "It has been said that it requires 21 times of doing something in order to make a habit." Changing bad habits is hard work, she goes on to say, and it may take you 21 tries to replace a bad habit with a good one.

I evaluate my habits yearly. If you have not evaluated yours now is the time to do it. Good writing habits will help you reach your goal -- seeing your name in print.

Copyright 2010 by Harriet Hodgson

Harriet Hodgson has been an independent journalist for decades. She is a member of the American Society of Journalists and Authors, Association of Health Care Journalists, and Association for Death Education and Counseling. Her 24th book, "Smiling Through Your Tears: Anticipating Grief," written with Lois Krahn, MD is available from Amazon.

Centering Corporation has published her 26th book, "Writing to Recover: The Journey from Loss and Grief to a New Life" and a companion journal with 100 writing jump-starts. Hodgson is a monthly columnist for the new "Caregiving in America" magazine, which resumes publication in August. She is also a contributing writer for the Open to Hope Foundation website. Pleas visit her website and learn more about this busy author and grandmother.

Tuesday, May 25, 2010

Do You Have to Be an Expert Before You Write a Book?

Guest Post by Kathleen Birmingham

In order to position yourself as an expert, you really should know what you're talking about.

Unfortunately, most of the people I talk to have the opposite problem. They believe that they need to do more, accomplish more, have more results, get that next degree or certification before they dare position themselves as an expert.

This isn't necessary. Really, it isn't.

If you are in a position to take money from the public for a service that you perform, then you obviously know more about it than your customers do.

Take a friend of mine as an example. She is a phenomenal wedding floral designer. When she is finished setting up a ballroom for a wedding you would have no way of knowing that she works out of her home in a converted garage that serves as her studio.

Because she is not working in a "brick and mortar" establishment on a well-traveled commercial street, she believes that she is not worthy of having the label "expert" placed on her head. And yet, when you ask her questions, which I do quite frequently because I'm NOT a floral designer, she has answers that detail things I never even thought about.

In mind, she is an expert. And she really SHOULD write a book. There are a lot of brides out there who would love to have a better idea of what they're getting into when they are planning for flowers for their wedding.

There are also people out there who would love to start a floral business out of their home, just as she is doing, and yet they don't have the slightest clue as to how to begin. If my friend were to write a book, there would be a number of people who would be able to confidently step out into the world of being an entrepreneur.

Why don't I write the book? I probably could, if I did enough research. But that still wouldn't position me as an expert because I'm NOT a floral designer, I'm a writer.

But if my friend were to sit down and either write about her life and her business, or even just talk it into a tape recorder and then get it transcribed, she would be able to write a book, positioning herself as an expert, commanding more money, and actually helping a lot of people in the world.

That's what positioning yourself as an expert does.

If you know more than your ARE an expert.

About the Author:

Kathleen Birmingham is a ghostwriter of hundreds of articles, lesson plans, newsletters, and books. Currently she is partnering with Russ Stevenson creating a system to help numerous people get their ideas out of their heads and down on paper. For more insight into her philosophies on the business of writing, visit her at:

Copyright - Kathleen A. Birmingham. All Rights Reserved Worldwide.

Monday, May 24, 2010

The 7 Core Principles of Conscious & Creative Writers

Guest post by Julia McCutchen

Once you appreciate fully the value of this new mindset, it is then a question of taking appropriate action to create the right circumstances to access and maintain your conscious and creative flow.

So what does it really mean to be a conscious and creative writer?

Here are the 7 Core Principles:

1. Presence: being fully awake to the moment - the Now- points towards the truth of what it means to be totally Present. The emphasis here is on Being rather than doing, essence rather than form. Here you connect with the true source of your most inspired ideas and understand the infinite nature of conscious creativity.

2. Alignment: complete alignment of body, mind, emotions and soul leads to discovering the unique gifts you have to share with the world and your authentic voice. Working consciously with the full creative cycle, alignment leads to living your true purpose and writing what you are here to write.

3. Intuition: an important gateway to conscious creativity and conscious writing, intuition functions beyond the mind. Rising above thought but using the mind as the vehicle, intuition is a distinct sense of Knowing and will guide you at every step along the path to successful published authorship - and beyond.

4. Balance: there are two fundamental principles underlying the world as we know it. The active, yang principle and the passive/receptive, yin principle. Finding the point of balance between opposites enables you to apply a whole-mind approach to crafting your words on the page and communicating with impact.

5. Simplicity: the 'less is more' principle often presents a challenge for writers who tend to have an abundance of ideas and an enthusiasm for sharing them with others. Yet in an age of information overload and decreasing attention spans, sharpening the focus by concentrating on the essentials dramatically improves the chances of reaching, and being heard by, a wide international audience.

6. Authenticity: the standard definition of authenticity includes the words real, credible, genuine, original and true which are also positive descriptions of powerful writing. Yet the true potential is revealed by understanding that authenticity is present when the inner you (the real you) is connected to the outer you (the interface you have with the world) empowering all that you think, say, do... and write!

7. Connection: for many writers the process is not complete without sharing the stories, the message and the meaning with others. In the contemporary world we have more opportunity than ever before to connect with other members of our tribe - people of a like-mind who will benefit from and enjoy the results of our conscious and creative expression.

Why is it worth applying these principles and becoming a conscious and creative writer?

Being open to the journey in to yourself which conscious and creative writing inspires leads you to access your authentic voice and the truth of what it is you want to say ever more deeply.

In turn, you discover a different relationship to yourself and to the world around you which is beyond fear and infused with meaning, purpose, creative fulfillment, and freedom.

Your ideas are permanently inspired, synchronicity is an everyday occurrence, you live your truth and are recognized for sharing your gifts with the world in a joyful and abundant way.

Over the next few weeks and months we will explore each of these principles in turn and identify how to apply the wisdom to your writing activities. You will then have your own tool kit of resources to support you on your journey to successful conscious and creative authorship.

About the author

Julia McCutchen is the Founder & Creative Director of the International Association of Conscious & Creative Writers (IACCW) where writers discover their authentic voice - on the page and in the world. She offers FREE articles, audios and videos for writers at For a FREE 10 Point Action Plan to discover your authentic voice plus information on training and the benefits of joining the IACCW writer's community, visit

Friday, May 21, 2010

Choosing a Title for Your Novel

The title of your novel is almost as important as the story itself. It needs to be compelling enough to jump off the shelf into your reader's arms. In essence, the title of your book is the distillation of your entire story. While some writers find it incredibly easy to come up with a title, others may take months or even years before finding a title that works for them. Here are some tips to make the process easier.

1. Find your inspiration within the pages. Is there a bit of dialogue that was particularly compelling? Often, the best titles are inspired by something a character says. Instead of trying to force a title before you even begin a book, find your inspiration within its pages. 

  2. Avoid the temptation to be trite. Many writers fall into the trap of creating a title that is overly cute or trite. Your title needs to be compelling enough to get an editor to take a second look before throwing your manuscript in the slush pile. They are inured to trite titles and will often judge an entire book just by the title alone.

3. Make a list of important plot points. Some of the world's greatest titles are drawn from a plot point. The outstanding illustration of this is Agatha Christie. She would often make the title of her books a clue as to what was happening within the pages or use a scrap of dialogue. For example, "And Then There Were None," this book follows a group of people who are gradually killed off as the plot moves. The title lets the reader know that these characters are going to be picked off, one by one, until there are none left.

No matter what your story is about, the words in your title are often the most important words you will write.
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