Monthly Archives: January 2016

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type write

How to Write Engaging Non-fiction

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The internet is filled with information designed to help writers produce great fiction, but when writers want to know how to write engaging non-fiction, the info stream dries up.

I don’t understand that: Knowing how to create non-fiction that draws your reader in is critical to the purpose of most non-fiction pieces. If a reader gives up on your piece because it’s too esoteric or they can’t weed through stilted or lofty language to get to the point, then your article, essay, or post fails in its purpose.

Non-fiction should be just as entertaining as fiction. Since I write for several outlets that require adherence to AP style, I realize that there are restrictions on usage and technique. And if you’re writing for a specific media outlet you may have additional style rules to follow: A piece for The Atlantic is going to read much differently from a piece for techdirt.

However, most good editors will give you leeway to inject some of your personal style into a piece, and this is critical. But knowing how to write in a way that is both professional and entertaining is the key to getting this kind of editorial carte blanche in the first place.

how to write great non-fiction using variation

How to Write with Variation

Something I think is critical to good non-fiction writing is variation. This means using synonyms and equivalent phrases to help your writing move the reader along. Here’s an example of how to write with variation from a soon-t0-be published article for the Center for Digital Ethics. The words in quotations have been replaced with synonyms to help smooth reading:

When a 12-year old African American boy defended comments regarding Barack Obama’s lack of love for America and his video went viral, his account was locked by Facebook for “suspicious activity”. Likewise, black (African American) Christian conservative and Vanderbilt University Professor Carol Swain’s account was removed(blocked) for “abusive content”, but then restored (unblocked) minutes after an article was published revealing Facebook’s arbitrary censorship of her account.

Variation is especially critical if you’re writing blog posts or for a client that requires SEO optimization as you’ll have to repeat keywords throughout the piece. Having variation in the rest of your language will help balance the keyword “load” and make the piece much more readable.

Tools to Keep Your Ink Flowing

Keep a thesaurus handy or set a tab on your browser to so you don’t interrupt your writing flow to look up a synonym. Another fantastic, yet surprisingly little-known tool, is a phrase finder. Not only will this help you write interesting prose, but it can even serve as an idea generator. And, if you get tired of your trusty thesaurus, try a synonym finder like this one. It has to be good, since the very name (synonym finder) is a variation on thesaurus!

So now you have some tools for your “how to write great non-fiction” toolbox. Gather them together, test drive them a little, and then join me next week for Part II.

See you on the next page!


Nikki Bee



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time for writing blurb

The Writing Jar — VIDEO

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If you don’t have time to read the blog post, take a minute and get an overview here and kick your writing into high gear!

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no more writer's block

The Writing Jar – Conquer Writer’s Block by Preserving Ideas for Later

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Jar of writing ideas to help with writer's block

Here’s my jar! Who knows what incredible stories it holds?

We’ve all experienced writer’s block—that sudden chasm that opens up between you and your next good idea.

You stand next to the yawning abyss looking forlornly at the other side, knowing that the idea for a best-selling novel, or a salable short story, or an article pitch is waiting if you could just get over there somehow.

But the bridge is down, the winds are high, and you don’t have a plane. So you put away your writing tools and head out to the grocery store or the hardware store or even the back yard where, by God, at least you’ll accomplish something today.

And what you do then is not nearly as important as what you’re not doing. You’re not writing, you’re not practicing your craft and, ergo, you’re not getting better at it. 

Don’t let an imagined dearth of ideas serve as an excuse to “do something else productive.”

Hit back at writer’s block by doing this instead:

Step One:  Move. 

I walk (almost) every morning and listen to an audiobook. Sometimes it’s about writing or language, but sometimes it’s other self-improvement topics or just plain escapist literature—whatever is floating my boat that day. Maybe you’ll run, or dust, or do laundry. But move and pay attention to something— it gets the creative juices flowing and helps remove idea stuckages (yep, I just made that up) that contribute to writer’s block.

Step Two: Record. 

I carry my phone everywhere because it has a handy-dandy “notes” app that I can use to jot things down that come into my head on the spur of the moment. Most of us have TONS of good ideas and we say “Oh, I’ll remember that,” and then we Don’t. Ever. Find. It. Again. So write it down or speak it into a voice memo app. Sometimes you don’t really have writer’s block — you have just managed to forget your best ideas!

Step Three: Collect. 

I am amazed at the kinds of things that spark an idea. Sometimes it’s a phrase —

“inter-cranial jewelry making”

from Elizabeth Gilbert’s “Big Magic” comes to mind. I wrote it down after hearing it on her audiobook, placed it in my jar and, in due time, it metamorphosed into a short story. Sometime’s it’s a scene: One morning I was walking in a (literal) fog and it was wreaking havoc with my hairstyle. This sentence popped into my head:

“Bits of cloud stuck to her hair, reducing it to sopping tangles.”

Or how about this partial sentence pulled from the scent of the neighborhood bakery early one morning:

“…the sweet, sugary weight of doughnuts in the air…”

Or, when I was walking around the lake on a calm, windless morning:

“The placid water spurled toward the shore, the ripples erasing themselves on the sand in quiet desperation.”

I don’t usually know what I am going to do with these bright and shinies when they first come to me. But I know I will need them later, and I know they are going to grow into something beautiful. So when I get home from my walk, I transcribe each onto a colorful piece of paper and place it in a jar that I keep on a shelf in my office. When I am feeling empty and uninspired, I reach in, grab one, and let my imagination fly. Something fascinating always emerges!

See you on the next page!

Nikki Bee


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clock closeup

Time for Writing — One Minute (more or less!) Writing Wonders

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Oh, look at me with my keen animation skillz –LOL! In seriousness though, I thought it might be fun to give people who put words on a page daily something fun to rattle their imagination’s cage a bit and prove that writing can be visual! This video is short (about a minute), sweet, and will get your ink flowing in no time!


See you on the next page!


Nikki Bee

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fantasy writing prompt

January 5, 2016: Fantasy

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What change in history caused the Grimm brothers to write their fantastic tales? What is “Der Schein”? Like fantasy writing prompts? Share this one with your friends!

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The Self-Publishing Journey Starts Here!

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horror writing picture


Oh, the horror!

While everyone else was dreaming of sugarplums and Santa, I was lashed securely to my desk, churning out stories for my upcoming horror anthology. Others I know got some pretty sweet things under their trees this year, but included amongst my Christmas gifts was this favorite: one of my 17-year-old sons’ comments after he read one of the tales I plan to include.

“Do you get nightmares when you write this stuff?!”

Ah, it warms a mother’s heart to be able to freak her kids out like that with just a few words — and hopefully it bodes well for the success of my book.

Which brings me to this post: I am going to be self-publishing this time and I’ve never done it before. I’ve tossed around the idea of sending out queries to traditional publishers, but I feel deep down inside that the indie way is the right way for me.

I know I’ll be fighting a marketing battle since I don’t have an email list for my fiction yet. On the bright side, that will make good blog fodder as I sift through what works and what fails. And we writers should always be willing to help each other out by sharing our experiences for the good of all!

I still have about 10,000 words to write for the anthology to bring the count up to the minimum 40K words. I haven’t decided if I will add a more stories or perhaps tackle a novella. I have several fiendish ideas percolating around in my head, so once I’ve settled on one (or two, or three), it shouldn’t take me too long to finish things up. I am giving myself to the end of January to complete the writing since I am also juggling a few non-fiction projects at the same time.

At that point, I’ll need to contract out copy- and line-editing and formatting, get a cover design, and so on. I will let you know my experience with this and share names, prices, and all other pertinent info for those who want a step-by-step with all the details.

In looking ahead, my biggest concern is that I don’t personally know very many people who read stories like the crazy, twisted stuff I write. If my “real-world” friends got their hands on some of these, they may unfriend me out of shock! All kidding aside, I’m not afraid of showing the world the frantic scribblings from my overactive mind, but I am not going to be able to count on family and friends for downloads at launch time since these kind of stories aren’t their cup of tea.

In the meantime, I am going to wade into that last story or two and see what kind of chaos I can create.

See you on the next page!

Nikki Bee



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