Tuesday, February 2, 2021

The Reluctant Nonfictionist

By Meredith Davis

Before writing Her Own Two Feet: A Rwandan Girl’s Brave Fight to Walk, I never thought of myself as a nonfiction writer. I had spent many years reading and writing fiction, attending lectures on world-building, amassing shelves of fiction titles, and studying plots and characters of books like Wonder and Skellig.

When my agent suggested I write a middle grade nonfiction based on a personal experience I had, I pushed back. Why was I so reluctant? After years of seeking publication, my agent was telling me this was a good idea for a story. I should give it a try, I was capable of writing it, I should go for it . . . but I was afraid. And if there’s one thing I’d learned as a writer, I couldn’t write from a place of fear.

There were some key things I had to do if I was going enter this new territory. I needed to Pin down my fears, Read the genre, Identify my connection to the topic, Detour when needed, and Experience everything. Take all the first letters and they spell PRIDE, another word for confidence, which is exactly what I needed. But where to start, and how?

 -Pin down my fears. Yoda says, “Named your fear must be, before banish it you can.” I realized I had at least two fears I was dealing with. One, I was afraid of getting something wrong. This was faulty thinking. I already knew there was the potential to get plenty wrong in fiction, like misrepresenting a real culture or place, even if it was in a fictional setting. Once I acknowledged what I’d already done to get things right in my fiction, I took courage. I could do this. Fear number two, my identity was wrapped up in being a fiction writer. That’s how editors knew me, how my instructors at VCFA knew me, how my writer friends knew me, and how I knew myself. I hadn’t been part of the conversation of nonfiction, but that didn’t mean I couldn’t start. I needed to engage with the nonfiction community, and I’ve discovered they are quite a friendly crowd. The way to start was to listen.

 -Read the genre. This is a great way to “listen” to the conversation out there. When I began writing nonfiction, I began reading a lot more nonfiction, looking for books that felt like what I was trying to produce. I also started following websites like Nonfiction Ninjas and signed up for newsletters from great nonfiction writers like Kate Messner and Candace Fleming. All of these voices helped inform my emerging nonfiction work.

 -Identify my connection to the topic. Why did I care about this story? Because it’s about my coauthor and myself, my connection to this book was obvious. Early on I knew I wanted to cowrite Her Own Two Feet with my Rwandan coauthor, Rebeka Uwitonze. It was both our stories. Being so closely connected was a huge confidence boost to me when I began to doubt myself, but nonfiction writers aren’t always so closely connected to their subject matter. It’s an important question to ask yourself no matter what the project because once you find your connection, you’ve found your emotional path into the story.

 -Detour when needed and don’t be afraid of the work. Her Own Two Feet started as a picture book because that’s all the material we had. When my agent suggested it felt like a bigger story, maybe middle grade, I resisted. That meant major commitment, buying a plane ticket to Rwanda, and interviewing people who could provide knowledge and stories beyond Rebeka’s and my experiences and memories. It meant going public with our nonfiction project. I took a chance, took a deep breath, and leapt, and flew, and here we are with a beautiful book and starred reviews and letters from children who are inspired by Rebeka’s story. It was worth it, but there were lots of changes, edits, and detours along the way.

 -Experience everything. We had Rebeka’s old cast, the brush she used to rub her scars, the lotion she used on her dry skin. In Rwanda we put our hands in the red dirt of the countryside, smelled the goats in the pen behind Rebeka’s house, heard the motorbikes pass by outside, tasted rice and beans in her school’s cafeteria, and saw the garden where she taught herself how to walk on the tops of her feet. These were physical details we used as we wrote scenes that gradually, step by step, became Her Own Two Feet: A Rwandan Girl’s Brave Fight to Walk. The more you can experience, the more you can engage the senses and engage the reader. I wish you all the best and am quite sure you can join the friendly ranks of a Confident Nonfictionist. We’ll be waiting for you.

 

ABOUT THE ACTIVITY

If you’re a Reluctant Nonfictionist, or maybe just tackling a tough new project, I challenge you to target an element of PRIDE in your process.

 

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Meredith Davis is the co-author of HER OWN TWO FEET: A RWANDAN GIRL’S BRAVE FIGHT TO WALK (Scholastic, 2019) which has won numerous awards and honors including a PW starred review, JLG Winter 2020 selection, NAACP Image Award nominee, and 2020 Winner SCBWI Crystal Kite Award for TX/OK. She once worked at an independent children’s bookstore, started the Austin Chapter of SCBWI, and earned her MFA in Writing for Children and Young Adults at VCFA. She is married with three children and lives in a home full of books in Austin, Texas.

 

ABOUT THE PRIZE

Meredith Davis will be awarding a signed copy of Her Own Two Feet: A Rwandan Girl’s Brave Fight to Walk.

 

128 comments:

  1. Meridith, this is very inspiring! I love your use of PRIDE, and showing us how you conquered your fears. Thank you!

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  2. Getting my comment to post is a test of skill. Trying again here... Thank you for the new acronym.

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  3. Thank you for sharing your journey with us . Fear is something I also have about trying to write nonfiction. I hope I can grow as a reader and writer and try to tackle one that I feel comfortable with!

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  4. I enjoy learning the stories behind stories. Thank you for sharing yours, Meredith. It's inspiring! I'm eager to check out your book.

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  5. This was the perfect post for me. I have written several fiction manuscripts but no nonfiction yet. One of my goals for this year is to write a nonfiction ms but it’s scary and I feel out of my element. However, I think it’s good to push myself and try something out of my comfort zone. Thanks for the inspiration!

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  6. Helpful post. I identify with your guiding principle of connection. And, of course, face your fear. Carole Calladine

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  7. Very helpful! I really like idea of diving into the I of a project and finding what you identify with. Thank you!

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  8. Oh wow! Great story-looks like it would really catch the eye of my students when learning about hard work. Thanks for the post!

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  9. Meredith, what an inspirational journey to publication. Your agent believed in you and knew you could write the story and you did! I am looking forward to reading HER OWN TWO FEET.

    I have written down the acronym PRIDE and identified my connection to the topic. I do need to experience more, and I won't have to travel as far as Rwanda, but I do need to fly!

    Thank you so much for sharing your thoughts and experiences.

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  10. Thanks Meredith Davis for such a powerful story and truly written from your heart story. Thank you for the PRIDE acronym to keep me on track in my creating. My granddaughter just broker her arm and would love to read this inspirational story of strength, girl power, and
    courage.

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  11. How inspriring! Thank you for sharing!

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  12. Very inspiring! I love that you were brave enough to take that leap of faith in your project and buy a plane ticket!

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  13. That's an inspiring story, including the fear of trying something new and becoming a "different" kind of writer. I can relate -- thank you!

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  14. Thanks Meredith. I have a big NF project that I am going to apply your PRIDE principles to and see if I can overcome the inertia and get some words on paper!

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  15. I enjoyed reading the way you went about writing Her Own Two Feet. I especially liked the "Experience Everything" advice. Thank you!

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  16. Another reluctant nonfictionist here. Congrats on your beautiful book!

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  17. Thanks for sharing this Meredith. Very inspiring. I especially liked your use of the PRIDE acronym. I will remember that when I'm struggling.

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  18. Great post, Meredith - I especially identify with the "I" ... and need to focus more on pinning that one down.

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  19. I totally identify with the fear of getting things wrong in nonfiction! It's hard not to let that hold you back. Great post.

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  20. Thank you for this amazing post. So much great advice about how to push through fear. I love how the sensory details about your time in Rwanda brought me there. I can't wait to read your book!

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  21. "PRIDE in your purpose" What a great acronym and sentence. Even without the acronym, we need to feel pride in our purpose. Love this...thank you.

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  22. I can't wait to read this incredible story! Love the acronym and the terrific lesson behind it. Thank you!

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  23. What an inspiring story - can’t wait to read the book! Jotting down the PRIDE acronym for when I’m feeling fearful about my own projects.

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  24. Wow! What a helpful and insightful post!! So many nuggets of wisdom and insight! Now...off to read your book!! Thanks for the inspiration!!

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  25. Thank you Meredith for a thoughtful exercise. Pinning down the unnamed fears about a project is so useful! The other four were less difficult.

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  26. Writing non-fiction is a wonderful experience. I started with a picture book biography. I loved the research! Maybe, too much! I have so much to learn! I came to the right place.

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  27. Thank you for taking us on your journey.

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  28. Thank you for this! Your first fear - fear of getting something wrong - is also mine! My background is journalism, so I obsess over accuracy!

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  29. Thanks for sharing your reflection on your NF journey. Clarifying topics I am and have been passionate about in my life helps me to identify topics I am excited about researching and writing about. Thanks for sharing your insights!

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  30. I knew my connection to my NF idea but your post made me sit down and write it out in detail. What a great exercise!

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  31. Great post! I like the P.R.I.D.E. challenge. I know just the manuscript that needs it. : ) Thanks!

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  32. For me, fiction is much, much scarier. I'll need some P.R.I.D.E. to tackle my next project. Thank you!

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  33. Thank you for your inspiring words!

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  34. Thanks, Meredith. Your story's inspiring and love the PRIDE acronym.

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  35. What a perfect acronym. I’ve had an idea for a biography but it wasn’t until I asked myself why am I a great person to write this story, that the pieces came together. Identifying our connection to the story is such an important piece.

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  36. What an exciting story to tell. Your coauthor must be elated. What a blessing! Thanks for exposing the fears all of us face at one time or another.

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  37. Love the idea of The Reluctant Nonfictionist and PRIDE! Thanks for the tips.

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  38. Thanks for sharing your helpful insights. Valuable guidance for all!

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  39. Love the PRIDE acronym - what great guiding principles! Thank you for sharing.

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  40. Thanks for sharing your leap to nonfiction! Lynn Street

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  41. Thank you for sharing your insights and the realities of writing non-fiction. It is a great post and an inspirational one for those of us just beginning our journey! :)

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  42. Thank you, Meredith, for sharing your writing journey with your coauthor.

    Suzy Leopold

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  43. Your PRIDE acronym inspires courage to keep at it. Can't wait to read your and Rebeka's incredible story as well as more nonfiction stories in your future!

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  44. As a Reluctant Nonfictionist, this reeeaaaly resonates with me. I need to identify my fear and move on from there. Thank you!

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  45. Pinning down fears is exactly what I needed to hear. What a magnificent story you wrote!

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  46. Thank you for sharing your PRIDE acronym. Your essay helped me realize that I'm struggling with the "P" so I appreciated reading how you named your fears. Seriously, what do I have to lose if I identify my fears?! Thanks for the kick(start)!

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  47. This post was exactly what I needed! Thank you SO much!

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  48. You have helped me identify a source for my challenge in just getting the books written! Thanks!

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  49. What an intriguing story you wrote about Rebeka, and also an very helpful back story of following PRIDE. Thank-you!

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  50. Thanks a dozen times! I'm loving the Activities Calendar.

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  51. Thanks for the inspiring post - I love your PRIDE acronym. I look forward to your upcoming book!

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  52. thanks for this. That is what I need PRIDE = Confidence.

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  53. Thank you so much for this advice! I have a manuscript that I wrote intending it to be a picture book, but all the feedback I've received has pointed in the direction of making it a middle grade chapter book. I've never done that before, but your post gives me confidence that I can. Thank you!

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  54. Thanks for sharing your story and inspiration. I wrote fiction for years before I took a leap into nonfiction and am so glad I did.

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  55. Good for you for putting yourself out there! The book sound wonderful!

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  56. Thanks for sharing your journey and strategies for writing HER OWN TWO FEET, Meredith. It sounds like a wonderful book, and I can't wait to check it out!

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  57. What an amazing experience for you and Rebeka. You both took risks and overcame them. YAY! And so good to start a project pinning down what might try to hold you back. The five aspects you mention apply to so much in life. Thank you for sharing these insights.

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  58. What an amazing experience for you and Rebeka. You both took risks and overcame them. YAY! And so good to start a project pinning down what might try to hold you back. The five aspects you mention apply to so much in life. Thank you for sharing these insights.

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  59. Your PRIDE acronym is a treasure of guidance and inspiration. Thank you, Meredith, for sharing your journey from fiction to nonfiction. Congratulations to you and Rebeka!

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  60. Thank you for your honesty.
    At the risk of being uncouth, how does a NF writer fund a trip to a place of research, like Rwanda, that is critical to the project? As a beginning NF writer, I'm so curious how this works. (And I'm assuming the world is open for business, with pandemic concerns not being a consideration.)

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    1. This is a great question! We had the funds to make the trip to Rwanda which is expensive (due primarily to airfare), but there are many ways to dig deep into the sensory details of a foreign country even if you can't travel there yourself. Online videos enable you to see and hear a place, try a google search, many people post their vacation videos, you'll be surprised what you can find. If you have friends that travel there, ask if they'll take notes of the smells they encounter and any other sensory details. See if you can find people in country that speak your language that you can interview. We used WhatsApp, email, skype and more recently zoom for long distance communications. It feels overwhelming and scary at first. My biggest advice is to take it one step at a time, see how far you can go with online research. One video leads you to an article leads you to a source leads you to an interview leads you to the perfect sensory details. Don't let lack of finances or inability to travel keep you from writing. Start with what you have, and you'll be surprised where it takes you.

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  61. Your acronym inspired me today. A school friend became the first person ever to run across Africa. She has already self published her own book released this year, but I'd like to detour from her themes, content, style and so on and write my own version to send to publishing houses, as her focus and joy is athletics and adventure rather than writing. There is so much potential in her story and I think it should be shared widely. I am connected to the subject via our time at school together (plus we were born the same day), but rewriting a story she has already wrote herself raises my fears. I plan on researching the genre and my planned themes further and hopefully pitching my own version of it with her permission. Thank you for giving me the courage to further pursue this idea despite my initial fears. If you see a picture book by me, Dee Crick, in a bookstore in years to come, about the first person to run across Africa ... you'll know you were the inspiration :). Thank you. Dee Crick

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    1. I will toast that book with great celebration, Dee! What a great name you have, and what a great idea. A story can be told from so many different lenses.

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  62. Your journey sounds amazing. I love fictional books and am afraid to try nonfiction books, but I love your acronym (PRIDE).

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  63. Thank you for the inspiration. Middle Grade terrifies me too.

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  64. It’s interesting how fiction traditionally asks us to focus inwardly. We may draw details here and there from “real life”, but overall it’s a very interior process where our minds are working hard to fill in all the gaps of our created world. With nonfiction, it seems like almost the complete opposite: we now have to open our minds wide to the world around us as it is and translates that to our work. We activate all of our senses to take in as much as we can and somehow turn those multitudinous details into a gripping narrative. Just like you did on your trip. I love how open you were to all experiences, even the ones that didn’t strictly relate to your story’s longline. They were all the little details that made the story come alive for both you and the reader.

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    1. I love how you say this: "opening our minds to the wide world around us." What a wonderful image for nonfiction! Thanks for sharing it! There is so much we gain when we allow ourselves to be open to all the experiences we come across as we research and write nonfiction, even when they don't go along with our original vision for the book. The mold and shape not only our work, but ourselves and ultimately our readers! Thanks for your comments.

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  65. Great path to publication! Thanks for sharing!

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  66. Great path to publication! Thanks for sharing!

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  67. Thank you. I enjoyed this post. It will serve as a source of encouragement as I move forward writing NF.

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  68. Great advice, and wonderful to hear your story. Thanks!

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  69. Enjoyed your post - and your challenge for all of us to be brave. I like you must read more and gather knowledge about the genre before attempting it. Thanks for the post.

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  70. Thank you Meredith an inspiring story and an inspiring story behind the story. Thanks for writing!

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  71. Thanks for helping me figure out what I need to do to improve my craft. Face my fears I must.

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  72. This is a very helpful article.

    It's always hard to learn something new, much less in a second language. Having things like PRIDE being broken down into Pin, Read, Identity, Detour and Experience makes it so easy to remember, all these new learning strategies, on making me a better NF writer.

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  73. As I work to expand my writing portfolio to include nonfiction picture books, I plan to focus on the "R" of PRIDE and read more nonfiction picture books. I already own "A Big Chees For the White House" by Candace Fleming so I'm off to a great start!

    Thank for this wonderful post!

    Donna L Martin

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  74. Thank you for sharing your PRIDE process. I need to get over my fear of stepping into this genre. You and your co-writer are an inspiration.

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  75. Thank you so much for sharing. You have inspired me to dig deeper into my PRIDE.

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  76. That's so great, I encourage you to keep writing and pursuing your stories!

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  77. Wow! Your involvement in writing this book is contagious, thank you for sharing these steps!

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  78. Thanks for your post! I've experienced much the same when tackling a subject and appreciate the reminders to overcome those fears and dive in! Isn't it an awesome feeling when you've done your homework and shared an inspirational subject and their journey?

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  79. That's commitment, going all the way to Rwanda! Sounds like an amazing experience and a wonderful book, thanks for sharing.

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  80. Thank you for sharing Rebekah's bravery and yours too!

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  81. I love the PRIDE acronym that you used. It totally makes sense and is a wonderful way to help identify the things that hold us back and / or will propel us forward with NF writing.

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  82. What an inspiring story. Thanks for the advice, Meredith!

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  83. WOW this is so motivating! Thank you.

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  84. fear always accompanied any creative process and to move forward we have to acknowledge it and deal with it. love this new Acronym to deal with fears and doubts.

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  85. fear always accompanied any creative process and to move forward we have to acknowledge it and deal with it. love this new Acronym to deal with fears and doubts

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  86. I love your story. Meredith. I too pictured myself a fiction writer. But when a non-fiction story fell into my lap I needed the encouragement of my critique partners to try to write the story for children. It is now in the hands of a publisher - on its way to acquisitions. Fingers crossed they will like it.

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  87. Thanks for the very reasonable actions to add to my process!

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  88. Love the PRIDE acronym. So helpful in thinking through a current project. Thank you!

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  89. I think acronyms are so helpful, and I love that you named Skellig as one of your favorite books - one of mine, too!

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  90. I have one non-fiction idea that feels very personal, which is why I signed up for NFFEST this year, to get some insight on how to tackle it. I will keep the PRIDE mantra close as I work through the project. Thank you!

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  91. This sounds like an amazing book, and one that I plan to read. Thanks for the inspiration. What an interesting way to approach non-fiction writing!

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  92. Great post! And thank you for chiming in on Lisa's question about funding the detour portion. Once Covid releases its strangle hold on the world, maybe I can experience the place myself. But until then, I'll lean into your suggestions and perhaps expand the questions in my interviews to get these sensations from them as well. Thank you.

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  93. Glad you could name this and make it work for you! Ty for PRIDE.

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  94. Even with my background in journalism, I was still a reluctant nonfiction writer. The weight to get things absolutely right was so strong. I know I over-researched, but I didn't want to miss anything. Thank you for your encouragement and honesty with this article.

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  95. Thank you for this post. Fiction is my comfort zone, so this resonated with me a lot.

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  96. Thank you for your motivating post, Meredith! Here's hoping the PRIDE acronym will help me get over my hesitation to try NF.

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  97. Thank you for sharing your journey with us. Very inspirational.
    And congrats on your book. It sounds very interesting.

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  98. I'll never look at PRIDE the same way again. Thank you!

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  99. What a wonderful story. Your PRIDE approach is great and a helpful way to build confidence in a project. Thanks Meredith.

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  100. I read your book when it first came out and enjoyed it! My husband and I sponsor several children through ANL. We visited a few years ago. Love seeing the photos and hearing the references to a place I've been. Thank you!

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  101. Thanks for the inspiration! And I also think you may be the only other person I know to have read "Skellig"! :)

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  102. Very motivating post. Taking a leap over to NF is scary and your reflections on your journey has helped definitely helped me. Thank you!

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  103. Thanks for the suggestions. And I find that I have to be careful when I make a detour because it's TOO easy for me to wander around and explore. I'll try to be more careful. :)

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  104. Love learning about your journey from fiction writer to non-fiction writer and sharing your motivational acronym. The “D” in PRIDE is my favorite since any meandering deepens the experience.

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  105. I can't wait to read this book! Thanks for sharing your story with us.

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  106. So inspiring, thank you for sharing!

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  107. Wow! I'm inspired by your courage to take that leap into lengthy nonfiction! I've yet to venture beyond nonfiction picture books....but I'm working on a MG historical nonfiction novel right now, so I'm thinking I may need to do a bit more "leaping" to interview some of the people who can help me get the details right.

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  108. Thank you for your post Meredith - I love your PRIDE approach and the honesty you shared about your fears of writing nonfiction. I to never thought I could write a nonfiction story, but I discovered that when you find something close to your heart, that you want to share with the world, it all somehow starts to fall into place. In the time since you and Rebekah visited my school last year, I have reread Her Own Two Feet and marvel at how all the details you both included make me feel as though I am right there with you. This is the post I needed to read to regain confidence and jump back into working on my manuscript. Thank you for the inspiration!

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  109. Yes! My real fear - misrepresenting a real culture or place. So, I research and research and research.

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  110. I just re-read this for the third or fourth time. It is really speaking to my situation right now with one of my stories, and I'm building up confidence to "jump in" through your story. Thanks for PRIDE to help me make the leap!

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  111. Thank you, Meredith. This was very inspiring and helpful for those of us who are reluctant to tackle topics for various reasons.

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  112. Meredith,
    as I embark on a new project i'll remember your words: I needed to Pin down my fears, Read the genre, Identify my connection to the topic, Detour when needed, and Experience everything. thank you

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  113. Thank you for this post! Very good advice!

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  114. Thank you for sharing your story. Your idea of PRIDE is definitely something I need to work on.

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  115. Meredith, thanks so much for sharing your story with us--it sounds like your commitment and passion paid off. I look forward to reading it.

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  116. Very inspiring! Thanks for sharing, Meredith! (From a fellow Texan, Houston SCBWI)

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  117. Thank you, Meredith, for this informational post! Congratulations on conquering your NF fears!

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