Five non-fiction writing tips for beginners
Try out this step-by-step process for writing non-fiction, biography or memoir

‘Writing a nonfiction story is like cracking a safe. It seems impossible at the beginning, but once you’re in, you’re in.’ – Rich Cohen

Try out this step-by-step process for writing non-fiction from our virtual writer in residence, Marcin Wilk from Krakow UNESCO City of Literature. Marcin’s five tips come from workshops he has hosted in Poland for writers who want to work on non-fiction, biography or memoir. They aim to help writers at the very first stage of working on a project.

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Imagining the City brings together five writers from UNESCO Cities of Literature across the world to explore connections between Norwich and their cities; link up with local writers; and work on a range of commissions.

Meet our five virtual writers in residence and find out how they spending their virtual residencies here >>


1. Find the reason, the aim and the audience

At the beginning it’s worth answering some basic questions. The answers might be essential for the whole work, so be honest and precise in answering them. These questions are:

  • What is the reason for starting this project?
  • Why did you choose that topic?
  • What is the aim of your work?
  • What audience do you want to write for?

2. Organise space and time

Your work is important. So be professional. You have to manage your own schedule. Find a space (a room of one’s own is important! Virginia Woolf is right!) and plan time exclusively for working on your project or book. Every Monday, Wednesday or Friday between 4pm and 7pm at the beginning? That’s OK. You might choose another part of the day or week. But keep an eye on your calendar. And once more: writing sometimes is a life, but don’t forget about life during writing. Good organizing helps you to find space and time for work, and for leisure.

3. Read a lot

Look for examples; find the 10-20 best nonfiction books you ever read; try to reread at least five of them. Read them carefully. Make notes. Be critical. Focus on the language they use. Look at how they are made and how they are structured. What do you like most in these texts? If you could, what would you change? Is it possible to write the same story in a better way? How?

4. Prepare for your research

Have you chosen the topic of your project? Great! Now find out as much as you can about it. Surf the Internet, but also go to the library, talk to experts. Try to gather all the information, addresses, facts, interviews or people you need to meet. And don’t worry if somebody has already written about what you’d like to write about. It’s a great opportunity to show another perspective.

5. Imagine yourself at work

Research is crucial in writing nonfiction. (In writing fiction research is also important, but, believe me, in nonfiction it is extremely important.) Now imagine your work at this stage and make a plan. Answer these questions: Where should you go to obtain any missing information and sources? Who should you talk to? How much time do you need? How much money do you need to implement your plan?


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Marcin Wilk, Krakow UNESCO City of Literature

Marcin Wilk is a writer, journalist, and blogger from Krakow. For many years he was the curator of the Przemysły Książki [“Book Industries”] at the International Literary Festival – Conrad Festival in Kraków (Poland), as well as the moderator of the Reading Discussion Clubs on classical literature in the same city. Author of the biographies of two famous Polish women: singer Anna Jantar (“Tyle Słońca“, 2015), and actress Irena Kwiatkowska (“Żarty się skończyły”, 2019), and a historical reportage “Pokój z widokiemLato 1939” [“A Room with a View. Summer 1939”] (2019). He is an editor of Wyliczanka.eu – a portal about books and literature. 

 Marcin says: In my project I will focus on the activities of independent bookshops. This is currently a very important topic for cultural and economic reasons. Independent bookshops operate in Krakow thanks to the enthusiasm of both the booksellers who run them, gathered around small bookshops, readers and customers, but also with the support of municipal institutions and – no less importantly – a growing awareness of the role that bookshops play in the city or in society in general. In examining the functioning of bookshops in Norwich, I want to learn about their local history, find out who the people who run them are, and also look through the prism of the bookshops at the local community, the book market, and the city. 

Looking for more inspiration?

Join us on Instagram @WritersCentre this February for Imagining the City: a series of daily writing prompts inspired by the hometowns of our UNESCO Cities of Literature Virtual Writers in Residence. From bookshops to beaches, our writers have devised a series of images and written prompts that reflect the concerns they’re exploring throughout their virtual residency. Get your writing prompts >>

Main image: Mohammad Danish from Pexels

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