Week Two of the “52- Week Writing Challenge”

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As a nonfiction writer I often ask myself the question, do I have a book in me? It’s far easier to write an article of opinion on a current event or a personal narrative essay, than commit to 200+ pages. At times even articles and essays aren’t all that easy. Sure, I participate in National Novel Writing Month, but the end goal of NaNoWriMo isn’t to write a book, it’s to grow as a writer and improve skills.

My current read is “Telling True Stories: A Nonfiction Writers’ Guide from the Nieman Foundation at Harvard University,” edited by Mark Kramer and Wendy Call. This book not only offers valuable tips for journalism, but it also takes both readers and writers behind the scenes of what’s involved in finding an amazing story and reporting it.

In order to write an entire book it takes a great deal of chasing the story, dedication, the ability to travel and adapt at any moment, building relationships and rapport, piecing information and most importantly, finding and writing the truth. Published in 2007, it includes some of the best journalists of my time (see photo above for contributors.)

“So perhaps I do know how to answer that question about whether I am a features, investigative, or explanatory reporter: Yes” –Louise Kiernan

I’m at the half way point of “Telling True Stories,” and I feel that I have learned a lot of original information. What I feel is the most invaluable is in part four: Constructing a Structure. Bruce Desilva recommends writing the ending of your story first. By doing so, the narration of the beginning and middle of your story will lead you where you want to go. It’s the journey to the “Ah-ha” moment for readers. This has always been a challenge for me. I intend to use this technique in efforts to improve my writing and the focus of my stories.

One Good Story Always Leads to Another

One thing I find about reading nonfiction books is that somewhere in each book I discover even more books that I’d want to read. I’ve already begun compiling a list of works from several of the contributors:

Already Purchased (for $.01 on Amazon):

The Teammates: A Portrait of Friendship- David Halberstam
The Outermost House: A Year of Life on the Great Beach of Cape Cod- Henry Beston

Added to my wish list on Amazon:

Wolf Boys: Two American Teenagers and Mexico’s Most Dangerous Drug Cartel- Dan Slater
Three Farms: Making Milk, Meat, and Money from the American Soil- Mark Kramer
House- Tracy Kidder
Random Family: Love, Drugs, Trouble and Coming of Age in the Bronx- Adrian Nicole LeBlanc
The New Journalism- Tom Wolfe


It may change as I continue to read the second half, but as of right now the two major perspectives I have learned up until this point are:

1. I am definitely capable of discovering a worthwhile story and writing a book.
2. After reading the accomplishments of these journalists, I feel inspired to kick up my game.

For the “52-Week Writing Challenge” I will be writing about what I’ve learned each week in reference to writing.

Erika Sauter is a freelance writer of literary journalism, opinion and personal narrative. You can contact her via email at erika.sauter@outlook.com and follow her on Medium here. She is also the creator of “The Crazy Cat Lady Photoblog.” She lives in a small farming community in Iowa with her husband, two children and eight cats.

Newspaper reporter in Eastern Iowa. The views expressed are mine alone.

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