Point of view in non-fiction writing

Since reading William Zinsser’s On Writing Well, my approach to writing non-fiction has changed. I think my Meyer biography benefitted greatly from it, but I am really struggling wth the Creech bio. Zinsser’s book advises that for non-fiction writers, it’s not just about finding the facts, verifying them, and plopping them down in order, it really is about the author’s response to the subject. Readers respond when the author injects a little of themselves into the writing, in whatever small way. My interpretation of his advice is that when writing non-fiction, it’s important for the writer to have a definite point of view.

Now, I like Sharon Creech’s books a lot. Love That Dog is my hands-down favorite, followed very closely by A Fine, Fine School. But awe and respect isn’t really a point of view about a person. It’s the same as when your 2nd grade teacher forced you to stop using the word “like” for every description. I like Sharon Creech, I like her books, I like her writing. This does not make for interesting reading. I didn’t have this problem when I wrote the Spinelli and L’Engle biographies because back then, awe was enough for me. I thought my sole job was to write about all the things they did that I thought were so great. Now that I’ve read Zinsser, it’s not enough. Thanks for nothing, William.

It might be that I’m a little overwhelmed because I’m doing multiple projects at the same time, or that I’m incredibly tired. It may also be that I haven’t read through enough of the articles I’ve pulled. Part of me wants to blame Creech herself for being so darn likable. I’m sure I won’t have this problem when I start Al Gore’s biography in the Spring. I have definite feelings about ol’ Al and I’m really excited to get to his story. He’s polarizing, maybe by nature of being a politician, but he makes a great story.

So back to figuring out my point of view about a person whose books I admire, but whose personality I have no bead on. It’s going to be rough. And that deadline isn’t getting further away.

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