Like to Write?  Nonfiction Writing Workshop for Beginners back to opening

Some sample nonfiction

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The Return of the Wolf to Yellowstone

        February 14, 1994 

        An austere white stucco house with a roof of ochre tile stands amid the olive groves and vineyards of Chianti. Tight-furled cypresses file uphill along a lane to other villas, other farms. The February sun hangs low in the sky, the icy tramontana slices in from Switzerland, but the grass is already green and the trees are in bud. Except for wisps . . .

A Georgia Courthouse

When I drive from Athens to Sparta, I know I am in Georgia. The road  takes you through open fields. Only one sharecropper shack remains,  light peering through between the four piles of bricks on which it stands.  Cotton, mechanically maintained now, is regaining its place in competition  with the beef cattle endlessly grazing on gently sloping hillsides. Coming into Sparta, the county courthouse commands attention. 

Click the links to see the full chapters.  And here are some more.

 Annals of the Former World

  The Slippery Meaning of Ice

Read these, compare with what you have done.  Don't judge your work against others.  Instead, take the opportunity to compare.  What have these other writers done that you liked?  What have they done that you disliked?  What have they done that you think you could learn from?  Try copying a few sentences and substituting your own words.

Here's how you can do that.  The following passage is by James Baldwin.

I was born in Harlem thirty-one years ago. I began plotting novels at about the time I learned to read. The story of my childhood is the usual bleak fantasy, and we can dismiss it with the restrained observation that I certainly would not consider living it again.

Here is my exact rewrite:

I was born in Blue Island Illinois, seventy  long years ago.  I began ruining my eyes as soon as I could read.   The story of my childhood is the usual tug of war between parents and child, and the best I can say about it is that reached adulthood in one healthy, but somewhat neurotic piece.

Okay.  It wasn't exact.  I'm a writer, I gotta write.  But I did follow the general pattern of Baldwin's paragraph and sentences.  I very nearly reproduced his rhythms.  Is this cheating?  Well, yes and no.  Cheating in that we always want to do our own thing.  But not in the sense that I have stolen anything from Baldwin.  I copied his moves, not his game.

Anyone who works in the arts does this from time to time, especially when they are learning.  A young dancer will learn by watching an accomplished artist.  A painter will sit down and literally copy a masterpiece;  I've seen them do it, often.  Singers will imitate their favorite artists.  Athletes will imitate the moves of the pro's.

So why shouldn't you take advantage of the lessons taught be a great writer?

Go ahead.  Give it a whack.

 Turn the Page