I’ve read my share of nonfiction books over time. After reading Anne Janzer’s new book, Writing To Be Understood, I know why I’ve quite reading more than I’ve finished. Exciting or interesting subject matter does not make an exciting or interesting book.
This manual for nonfiction writers will help you write better books. Simple as that. Know a writing teacher? Pass this book along. As a former English teacher, I wish I would have had a reference like this. Most of our resources for teaching writing (back in the day) read like dictionaries. This book is user-friendly.
You’ll get more than just the normal “how-to” stuff from writing teachers in this book. You’ll benefit from the advice of experts from many different fields: writing, psychology, cognitive science, economics, and medicine. Her observations are thorough.
Some of my observations:
One reminder every nonfiction writer needs: beware of the curse of knowledge—thinking your readers understand more than they do–because you do. This book will help you navigate those waters and be understandable. Work to, as Anne says, “reduce the unnecessary cognitive load.”
I always like a book that contains more than just information. Even though I crave information and need it to form personal takeaways, books with practical tips appeal to me more than those without that piece. Anne’s “Methods For Writers” sections in the chapters will help you apply what you’re learning. No finger wagging included.
Another feature I like in this book: dissecting successful nonfiction works as examples of some of the concepts.
Favorite chapters are always places I will revisit in any book. My favorites here were the chapters on analogies and storytelling. I love this quote: “Nonfiction authors stalk analogies like big game hunters track elusive prey.” That is me. I can never get enough useful information on how to use stories, images, and analogies correctly.
The chapter I think most nonfiction writers should read (and re-read): how to not be boring. Enough said.
Another pain point for many: “please don’t write conversationally. Most readers need more clarity than that.” On the flip side of that is valuable advice on how jargon can be a “tone killer” and leave your readers feeling like outsiders.
I’m afraid I could go on and on passing on nuggets of excellence from the book, but I’ll leave room for you to figure it out for yourself. Just pick up a copy—you’ll thank me.