Friday, May 10, 2019

How Young Nonfiction Writers Can Dig Deep, Part 1

This school year, I decided to try something new for the Monday strand of this blog. I invited 40 award-winning nonfiction authors to discuss how who they are as people—their personalities, passions, beliefs, and life experiences influence the topics they choose and the approaches they take to their writing.

Why did I think it was worthwhile to explore this idea so thoroughly? Because to me, it’s the secret of crafting engaging nonfiction.

If your students’ nonfiction writing seems dull and lifeless, it’s probably because they aren’t personally invested.

If your students copy their research resources even though they know plagiarism is wrong and can have severe consequences, it’s probably because they haven’t taken the time to synthesize their research and make their own meaning.

Simply put, to create finely-crafted nonfiction, writers need to have some skin in the game. They need to dig deep and find a personal connection to their topic and their approach. Professional writers know this, but most young writers don’t. It’s something we must help them understand.

To get a better sense of how a nonfiction writer’s passions, fears, vulnerabilities, and experiences in the world can determine the topics they take on and the way they frame their prose, take a look at the wonderful, generous essays my colleagues have contributed. They’re fascinating.

Here are a few excerpts that really get to the heart of what I’m talking about:

I encourage you to share some of the Monday Digging Deeper posts with your students. Then read some books written by those authors and lead a class discussion by asking some of the following questions:

—What surprises you about the authors’ personal connections to their books?

—Do you see hints of these connections as you read the books?

—How can you find your own personal meaning in the information you gather during the research process? 

—How can you add a little bit of yourself to the nonfiction you write?

—How could this strategy make your writing more interesting?

—How could it help you avoid plagiarism?

I’ll be discussing how and why personal connections can enrich students’ nonfiction writing in upcoming weeks. Stay tuned.


  1. I have been loving all of these posts, Melissa! Thanks for sharing them! :)

  2. I am catching up on following your posts. I love these - all of them. Thank you for getting to the heart of how to ask questions to reveal what leads a writer is passionate about and how they go about forming a line of thought to create a story.