Nana, Bread and Everything In-between- Non-fiction Nemesis.

Fiction and non-fiction writing have obvious differences, namely the made up part of fiction. Though, any fiction writer will tell you pieces of non- fiction show up in every tale. There are pitfalls that both have in common too, and even as I write this I have to guard against one of them.

It starts like this. I want to write an article about how baking bread brought my family through COVID; a cliché now but there was a time when it would have been a worthy topic. I have my outline; talk about my nana baking, talk about my first tries, my sister’s bread machine, and then the therapeutic joys of kneading bread, the security and calm of the smell of baking bread and the healing power of warm, crusty bread slathered with butter. This is the plan and it’s a good one. That is until I start writing.

Starting with Nana is probably the first mistake. I begin describing how she looked, with her cotton house dress and apron tied about her thick waist, flour on her hands, in her steely grey hair; allowing us to hang around her like a gaggle of chicks, under foot with her every turn, reaching for the rolling pin, pressing and pushing on a dough ball, the occasional curse that made us all laugh. Right….as soon as I start down that path about Nana, I’m lost, way off course, writing a whole different article. It might be better than what I intended, but it’s different, not what I pitched to a web-site or what the contest I entered in is supposed to be about. Worse yet, I may discover that I don’t want to write my original plan. I’m so enthralled with this new direction that I happily abandon the plan. All well and good until I get half way through the meandering path I’m on and realize it’s going no where. There’s nothing worse than losing inspiration.

Of course there can be happy endings to this scenario. I could actually stumble on a stronger theme that would never become overdone or irrelevant. Maybe. I have certainly found the organic creation of plot lines and new characters reaps a harvest of improvements in my fiction writing but even that can be disorienting and derailing. The consequences are not just about the writer.

Have you ever read an article or heard a speech and scratched your head wondering what it was supposed to be about? That’s what happens when part way in the writer zig-zagged, went a different direction and tried to bring it back without recognizing the new thought, though interesting, didn’t belong.

Key point, watch out for the deceptive cuteness of a ‘bunny trail’ in your non-fiction writing. It’s just as dangerous as meandering along with loose plot in fiction. Foster the skill of self-awareness. Capture every trail with a snapshot few sentences and then get back to the juncture where the plan started veering off course. Finish what you started.

It’s just like anything else in life that leads to success, self-discipline sprinkled with just a little softening of restraint now and then will get you where you want to be. Happy Writing! Clare

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