Maybe You’re Not a Novelist: Other Types of Writing to Try

In the legal profession, there are many ways to make a living other than litigation. That’s a good thing, too, because there are many different types of lawyers, each with differing abilities and preferences. For example, the histrionics of the courtroom, where lawyers often resort to dramatic speech and flamboyant tactics in order to communicate effectively with the jury, would likely be anathema for attorneys who have made a specialty of the type of behind-the-scenes, meticulous research and analysis so necessary to corporate merger and acquisitions work. Many lawyers happily spend an entire career in a community away from the noise and energy of the big city, quietly drafting wills, negotiating divorce settlements, conducting real estate closings, and performing other vital legal work that never requires them to appear in front of judges, juries, or television cameras.

Similarly, you may find that writing fiction just isn’t your cup of tea. That doesn’t mean you aren’t a writer—far from it! It just means that you might be better suited to a different type of writing that calls for different skills and habits.

Have you led an interesting life? Lived in different cultures or done difficult or dangerous work, perhaps? It could be that memoir would be a good genre for you to explore. Memoirists write down their recollections and observations on their lives, but this is much more than just putting your daily journals out for the public to see. What makes a good memoir is the writer’s ability to connect their individual experiences with the times and places where they’ve lived. A good memoir allows readers to live a little bit through someone else’s senses and have their own minds broadened in the process.

If you are of a slightly poetic bent—and you’re not actually a full-blown poet—you might enjoy creative nonfiction. Such writing includes what might have formerly been called essay, but it can take almost any direction the writer chooses. Writers like Annie Dillard, Anne Lamott, Jon Krakauer, Frank McCourt, and many others have taken their cues from nature, contemporary life, religion, politics … you name it. From their points of departure, they weave in their own observations, make connections with history, performing and visual arts, and a host of other topics. One of the qualities that puts the “creative” in creative nonfiction is the writer’s ability to perceive and portray these unexpected associations in ways that make readers think in new and surprising ways.

Of course, for those who prefer to stay firmly grounded in the factual, moment-by-moment flow of events, there’s journalism and commentary. This type of writing has its foundation in the classic five W’s of news reporting—who, what, when, where, and why—but it expands on these to embrace the writer’s own analysis, critique, and opinion. The difference between good commentary and the rants you might see on social media is its solid grounding in facts and data. Good commentators don’t present their opinions until they have firmly documented the facts. Quality commentary presents points of view that may differ from a reader’s, but in a way that invites further consideration rather than provoking mindless argument.

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