Why I Write Nonfiction

Carl Sagan, the creator of the 1980s series Cosmos, once said that “a book is proof that humans are capable of working magic.” I believed in that magic from the time I first learned how to read and to write. Reading taught me that I could visit different countries, travel back and forth in time, even get inside the minds of other people, but when I learned how to write, I realized that I could introduce other people to the same experiences. To me, reading was a miracle, and being a writer was to be a miracle worker.

You might say that I view writing as a calling. It might also be called a talent, a gift, a skill or a craft (or all of these). But first of all, it is a responsibility—to communicate the Truth as you understand it in order to help others make sense of the world. Writers are high priests of the Temple of the Meaning of Life, not because we have the answers, but because we are willing to ask the questions. “Why am I here? What is the point of all of this?”  Every piece of writing is an attempt to answer those questions in one way or another.

Although I have tried many different kinds of writing—poetry, stories, (unpublished) novels, plays, blog posts, newspaper columns and magazine articles—I have finally come to accept that the genre that best represents me is nonfiction. For years, I resisted the label of “nonfiction writer” because I was under the mistaken impression (fostered by what I learned as a schoolchild) that “real” writing (or literature) had to be fiction: poetry, short stories, plays and novels. I bought into the idea that nonfiction was more pedestrian and practical than fiction, that it required less imagination, creativity, and even talent. In other words, I saw fiction as art and nonfiction as craft. Fiction was magic and nonfiction was just plain reality.

And yet, when I look back on the books that have stayed with me over the years, it seems that most of them are nonfiction, mainly in the form of essays, like Anne Morrow Lindbergh’s Gift From the Sea and Richard Selzer’s Confessions of a Knife. I have gradually come to realize that I want to do what they did, which is to take the mundane and lift it to the level of the sacred. I want to dispel the notion that only fiction can engage the heart as well as the mind, or that real life, in the form of facts, is boring and uninspiring.

I want to show my readers how to see the whole universe in a grain of sand.


Why Write A Letter?

A letter is very concrete and can be used as evidence of information exchanged between two parties. To a business, a letter means business in a way that a phone call or an email do not. If you need to get your point across and telephone calls aren’t cutting it, a letter is the way to go. Sadly, fewer and fewer people are using this tool, which actually makes the power of a letter today even stronger – it means pay attention even more than before.

A letter should be used whenever you have difficulty achieving the resolution that you want by telephone or by electronic communication. For example, if you have bill collectors calling you day and night, the most effective way to ask them to stop is by letter requesting that all contact be in writing (along with a copy given to your lawyer). Another example: if you’re ever disputing a bill, a letter is the best way to get your case across, as an individual who is not serious enough about a dispute to send a letter often won’t get the resolution they want. In both of these cases, a well-constructed letter is the way to go.

For details  on how to write a formal letter see the original article by Trent at The Simple Dollar.