David Waltner-Toews: Get the facts and create a good story to explain them!
During the month of January we will be running creative nonfiction writing tips from members of the Creative Nonfiction Collective to give you inspiration for our current creative nonfiction competition.
1) Be obsessive about doing your homework. Your credibility depends on getting the details - the facts - right. This is hard work, can, at times, be boring and off-putting to your friends (like when you want to examine elephant excrement more closely). You will feel like throwing up your hands in despair. Stick with it.
2) Facts are not enough! You need a great story that pulls together all the facts. This is where the aha! moments come. Without the story, a nonfiction writer or a scientist is a junk collector, picking up artifacts, bones, and bits of DNA. Without a good story to explain them, dinosaur bones are just old reptile bones. Nowadays, anyone can collect bits of data on the internet. As a creative nonfiction writer, your job is to give meaning to those data, and to instill into your (millions of!) readers your passion about the world in which we live. To write a good story, you must delight in your subject matter, no matter how banal. In fact, the more off-putting your subject matter, the more that delight matters. Believe me, having written books on diseases people get from animals, food poisoning, and excrement, I know what I’m talking about on that score!
David Waltner-Toews, past (founding) president of Veterinarians without Borders/ Vétérinaires sans Frontières - Canada, is the author of seventeen books of poetry, fiction, and creative nonfiction, including The Chickens Fight Back and Food, Sex and Salmonella (both from Greystone), and The Origin of Feces: What Excrement Tells Us About Evolution, Ecology, and a Sustainable Society (ECW Press, May 2013).