The Art of Nonfiction, Chapter 1

I identified three important concepts in chapter 1; 1. Non-fiction writing is a skill, 2. the goal of writing is clarity, and 3. writing problems can be overcome.

Non-fiction writing can be systematically improved through focus and practice.  While there is some debate as to the extent creativity can be learned for fiction writing, non-fiction writing does not depend on creativity.  As such, learning how to improve the skill at which I write enables me to communicate more effectively.  This makes since, as I spent 12 years in school learning how to write more effectively.  I only wish they had made the purpose of writing more explicit.  Writing can also facilitate capturing my thoughts, allowing me to refer to my ideas at a later time.  As my capacity to think improves, so does the necessity for appropriate skills to translate those thoughts unto paper.  As my thoughts become more complex, my writing should reflect that using more complex sentences, more advanced sentence structures, and a larger vocabulary.  When I go back and review my writing from college, I already witness the evolution of my writing skills.  Unfortunately, they have not evolved enough.  Hopefully, the remaining chapters of this book will help with this process.

The second concept from chapter 1 was that the goal of non-fiction writing is clarity.  At one point, Rand states that similar to fiction, where the three most important elements are plot, plot, and plot - in non-fiction, the three most important elements are clarity, clarity, and clarity.  Clarity exists on a continuum.  If I were to write gibberish, obviously no one would understand it.  As I learn to organize my thoughts on paper, the level of clarity should increase.  The optimal goal is to write as clearly as possible for maximum transfer of the communication message.  This does not mean that the recipient will listen to the message, but that is their problem, not mine.  My goal should be to make my message as apparent and complete as possible.  When writing, I should assume I am writing for someone of equal intelligence as myself but without my knowledge of this topic.  Clarity should come from improving my writing skills.

The last take away from chapter 1 is that problems with non-fiction writing can be overcome.  They should not be seen as faults with my self or self-esteem.  As with the two concepts above, I am in firm agreement.  In fact, the idea that writing problems cannot be overcome is rather foreign to me.  One of the reasons I started this project was because I firmly believe that they can be (and should be) overcome.  But apparently, there are other people who struggle with writing and then blame themselves as somehow inadequate for the task and incapable of improving.  Its hard for me to relate to that mantra in my own life, but I should be cognizant that my students could fall victim to that belief.  Now that I reflect, I do know students who claim they are incapable of learning how to program computers.  That idea is categorically false.  It may be harder for some students to learn how to program, but like writing, programming is a skill (a skill very similar to writing itself) and everyone can learn it.


  1. Could you elaborate on this: "non-fiction writing does not depend on creativity." Why not? How is non-fiction writing not creative? Is that your idea or are you simply stating what the book says?

  2. I'm using creativity in the artistic sense, as in creating a fictitious reality. Non-fiction writing, by its definition, does not create a fictitious reality.

  3. So here's another question for you: what's up with so many links to my blog coming from xpac.info addresses lately? I haven't clicked any of them to see what they are as I'm already suspicious. Figured Mr. Computer would know. ;)