From Publishers Weekly:
Book-length nonfiction is what I do, and my advice is necessarily tailored to writers who want to do pretty much the same thing.
1. Write about things that really interest you. Notwithstanding what my pal Mike claims was his spooky prescience, I never dreamed I’d be a literary biographer. I’m not an academic; I’m just a bookish Joe who gets passionate about certain writers and suddenly wants to read everything they’ve ever written and find out why they wrote it. Which brings me to how this miracle came to pass. “Blake, fiction isn’t working out for you,” my would-be literary agent told me several years ago. “All your success”–such as it was–“has been with nonfiction. Look: write me a nonfiction book proposal about something that really interests you right now, and I’ll try to sell it.”
. . . .
3. Action is character. This is what F. Scott Fitzgerald wrote in his notes while working on his final novel, The Last Tycoon, and he wrote it in caps: ACTION IS CHARACTER. If one of our greatest narrative writers had to remind himself of that right up to the end, it must be pretty important. It is. Human beings are far too complex to explain away in so many words: imperious; timid; pompous; vain; bombastic–and so on. “Imperious”? “Bombastic”? What do those words mean exactly? In Lillian Ross’s note-perfect profile of Hemingway, she shows us the great man in a narrow elevator at Abercrombie & Fitch. Aware that a woman is giving him the stink eye, he suddenly erupts: “FOR CHRIST’S SAKE!” Just that: no elaboration on Ross’s part; only what happened. (The woman looked at the elevator floor after that.) So was Hemingway a “bombastic” man? Well, yes, sometimes, but consider all the other implicit nuances of his behavior: sick of his own fame; moderately aware, too, maybe, that the woman isn’t staring at him because he’s Hemingway but rather because he’s a big sweaty guy with a three-day beard who stinks of booze and just stinks period (fun fact: he rarely bathed); and finally a man who was getting rather tired of living in general. Let us see and hear how your characters behave, and let us (for the most part) draw our own conclusions. It’s more fun that way, and it does more justice to the paradox of human nature.
Link to the rest at Publishers Weekly and thanks to Eric for the tip.
Additional fact for younger visitors: When Hemingway was riding that elevator, Abercrombie & Fitch was a high-end outfitter for outdoor activities of the rich and famous. You could buy everything you needed for a three-month African safari, from custom-tailored hunting clothes to custom-fitted big-game rifles at Abercrombie & Fitch.
If Hemingway could see what Abercrombie & Fitch has become, he would erupt with much more colorful language than he did on that elevator.