Even when you’re writing what you “have to,’ love what you write. Oh, I can hear you now, saying I have it easy, getting to pick my topic and what do I know? But my professional career has consisted of writing to assignment, either on very technical subjects such as prestressed concrete or cosmetic chemistry, or to a very specific curriculum format. The trick is finding the story.
“But,” you say, “I have to write non-fiction, not a story. Story is fiction.”
Not so fast … One of the most misinterpreted phrases from popular culture has to be the signature ‘just the facts, ma’am” quote from Dragnet. Yes, the officers were looking for facts—truth—about what happened, but those facts told a story. A true story.
Facts can be arranged many ways: lists, diagrams, descriptive text. But if you want to get your readers excited about these facts, you need to be excited about them yourself. Oh, and by the way, if you get excited about the subject, you’ll enjoy the writing a lot more.
Here’s an example from my life, long ago—BPC (Before Personal Computers). In my high school AP English course, the teacher assigned an essay on Lord of the Flies. We could pick what we said about the book, but had to demonstrate knowledge of the content. I hated the book’s darkness, so chose to write on optimism in the story. I got an A on my essay
, no doubt partly from the teacher paying tribute to my chutzpah in mentioning “optimism” and Lord of the Flies in the same sentence. However, once I’d found an approach to the subject that I enjoyed, I also pulled together a pretty convincing argument that optimism did exist within that very dark and bloody fictional history.
People love stories. We’re hardwired to look for cause-and-effect, first/then relationships, and reasons behind events: all elements making up stories. So, the next time you get handed a writing assignment, look for the story you can tell.