You need to write a biography, a story of someone’s life. What do you do to discover the person’s silly quirks or darkest secrets? Probably you go online. That’s a good start, but that’s all it is—a start. Real authors—and students completing assignments—dig deeper. Only by checking a variety of resources can you find the juiciest facts to make your biographies come alive.
For example, when I write about someone, I start by reading an overview of their life. I might check a general resource, such as Wikipedia, But not all information is accurate in this or other websites, so I play detective to locate resources that confirm what I’m reading. One way to find good resources is to look at the bottom of the Wikipedia article and see which articles and books that author used as resources. If these sources seem credible to you, click to find the original articles the author used.
Another source of information is your librarian. Librarians love to delve into the craziest topics. Need to locate a long-lost relative of your biography subject or trail where that person lived over the years, ask your librarian. Librarians locate books, specialized online resources, and newspapers and magazines that can help you.
When I researched Dolores Huerta Stands Strong: The Woman Who Demanded Justice, I wanted more personal resources. So I looked for people to interview who knew her at different times of her life. I called up volunteers who marched with Dolores to protest unfair treatment of farm workers. I found others who helped the public learn not to eat table grapes until farm owners agreed to pay farm workers fair wages and provide clean housing, breaks in the fields, and places to go to the bathroom. When I wanted to learn how Dolores Huerta worked to improve lives of women, I contacted Gloria Steinem, a leader of the 1970s women’s movement. I talked with Huerta’s children.
I prepared before each interview. I learned about connections between the interviewees and my biography subject. I wrote questions ahead of time, so I wasn’t wasting interviewee time. At the end of each interview, I asked: “Is there something else you remember?’ That’s when I got some of the best stories.
Between interviews, books, magazine and newspaper articles, I found enough material to tell Huerta’s life. You can with your biography, too.
Once you've researched and written your biography, you will probably want to add a picture of your subject. You've probably seen many pictures during your research, but you must be careful about permission to use photographs or drawings. You can find some good guidelines at How to Find Free Images With Google's Advanced Image Search.
This photo of Delores Huerta is from her Wikipedia article. Most photos from Wikipedia may be used for non business purposes. By clicking on a picture, you are taken to Wikimedia, the place where photos reside. You will be able to download a photo and decide how you want to caption it.
Here's what it says about this photo in Wikimedia:
Description English: Dolores speaking at an event in Phoenix, Arizona.
Date: 20 March 2016
Author: Gage Skidmore
This information will allow you to tell your reader about the photo in the form of a caption and also credit your source:
Delores Huerta speaking at an event in Phoenix Arizona on March 20, 1916. Photo by Gage Skidmore via Wikimedia
Marlene Targ Brill's Dolores Huerta Stands Strong follows Huerta’s life from the mining communities of the Southwest where her father toiled, to the vineyards and fields of California, and across the country to the present day. As she worked for fair treatment for others, Dolores earned the nation’s highest honors. More important, she found her voice.
Giving Voice to Children in History
If you yearn and burn to be a writer, how can you make that a reality? From the time I was a teenager, I wanted writing to be my life’s work. But even though I loved to write, how to become a writer stumped me. I thought education must be the answer and had master’s degrees in both English and journalism before I realized that the only one who could harness and develop my inner writer—my writing soul—was me. Like most writers before me, I had to mostly teach myself what I needed to know. I have since published hundreds of articles and a dozen books.
While writing a book about Charles Dickens, I was surprised to learn that even he—one of the greatest writers of all—also had to teach himself. Because of family circumstances, he had only two years of formal schooling, so he learned the fine points of grammar and style on his own. Beginning at age fifteen, he worked upward through a series of jobs until, based solely on his writing ability, he became a newspaper reporter. In his spare time he wrote stories, articles, sketches, essays, editorials, theatre reviews, and plays. Gradually he began getting published in a monthly magazine. It didn’t pay him, but he was honing his craft, finding and training his voice as a writer. Then a publisher who liked his magazine stories gave him the opportunity to write his first novel—and the rest is history.
My advice to you is Dickens’ advice to you: don’t wait for someone to give you permission to be a writer or to teach you how. Give yourself permission. Teach yourself. Just write. Do it every day. Write about what you see, what you feel, what you dream. Make up stories. Observe people closely: what they wear, how they speak, what they do, how they feel and why. Learn how to write articles and essays. Study your favorite authors and pattern your work after theirs. Don’t worry that you are mimicking them, for you will find your own style. Trust me on this. Draw from the wisdom and skill of writers who have gone before you, because everything you need to know, you can learn from them. When you’re ready, publication will follow.
Read, read, read. Write, write, write.
If you want to become a writer, start now.
Be a writer.
Charles Dickens at age 37
(c) Andrea Warren 2014
Andrea Warren often teaches writing classes, and she often talks about Charles Dickens and how writing ultimately comes down to teaching yourself. Warren talks more about the writing process on her website, And to learn more about Charles Dickens and his quest to become a writer, check out her book, "Charles Dickens and the Street Children of London."
Andrea Warren is also a member of Authors on Call. Bring her into your classroom via interactive video conferencing. Here’s where you can learn more about her and her programs.
MLA 8 Citation
Warren, Andrea. "How Do You Become a Writer? Ask Charles Dickens." Nonfiction Minute, iNK Think Tank, 21 Sept. 2017, www.nonfictionminute.org/the-nonfiction-minute/how-do-you-become-a-writer-ask-charles-dickens.
Have you ever been asked to revise something that you wrote, but had trouble doing it? Maybe you didn’t know where to start? Maybe you thought you might actually make it worse than before? Maybe you thought it would be too hard?
Believe me, I get it. When I sit down to revise, I am often filled with fears about doing it. Over the years, though, I’ve come up with three simple steps that help take the fear out of revision. Let’s see how to use them when revising the most important chunk of writing—the paragraph.
When I revise a paragraph, my first step is to ask myself is “What’s this paragraph about?” Usually, I’ve already written a sentence that tells me. It’s called a thesis sentence. A thesis sentence can be something kind of loose such as “Skateboards rock,” or it can be specific such as “Yesterday, I had my best skateboard ride ever.” The point is that this sentence tells me what the rest of my paragraph needs to be about. When revising, I find it helpful to underline my thesis sentence.
Step Two is to make sure that my paragraph makes sense. Here, I check that every sentence helps prove or explain why my thesis sentence is true. I also make sure that none of my sentences are confusing. If they are, I revise them so they are easier to understand. I especially look for sentences that don’t really say anything, such as “Skateboards are, like, the best.” I’d either delete this sentence, or improve it to something like, “Skateboards provide great exercise.”
After my paragraph makes sense, I move on to Step Three: making my paragraph more fun. I replace boring verbs with more exciting ones. Instead of saying “My skateboard was fast,” I might write, “My skateboard hurtled down the ramp.” I put in better descriptions. I also might crack a joke, or throw in a simile such as “My skateboard carried me like a four-wheeled chariot”—or a metaphor, “My board launched me into the stratosphere.”
When tackling revision, I recommend having someone else read your writing aloud. That helps you spot problems. Even so, I don’t always nail a revision the first—or even the tenth—time. I revised this nonfiction minute more than a dozen times! The important thing is to not let your fears overwhelm you. Remember that revision is simply the process of you saying what you want to say.
What happens when a bestselling nonfiction children's book author pairs up with a nationally known writing teacher to discuss revision strategies? Magic.
Sneed B. Collard III and Vicki Spandel blow the roof off everything you thought you knew about teaching nonfiction writing and the purposes for revision. Dozens of strategy lessons pulled from Sneed's professional writing experience followed by Vicki's classroom-savvy tips and exercises give you the nuts and bolts of teaching revision to make nonfiction writing more meaningful, useful, and enjoyable for the reader.
Using a "big-to-small" process of revision, from Big Picture ideas down to individual words, Sneed and Vicki demystify revision and help students become clear, persuasive, compelling-even entertaining-writers. "With your encouragement and guidance," they write, "students will discover the joy of turning their first rough ideas into something readers cannot put down."
MLA 8 Citation
Collard, Sneed B., III. "Taking the Fear Out of Revision." Nonfiction Minute,
iNK Think Tank, 30 May 2018, www.nonfictionminute.org/the-nonfiction-minute/
“It is at these times you realize the blessing of a good, thick skirt,” said Mary Kingsley after she crashed into a cleverly concealed leopard pit lined with twelve-inch ivory spikes.
The year was 1895, the place Equatorial West Africa, and the spunky lady saved, thanks to her observance to the dress code of the day, was a young Englishwoman collecting species of fish and beetles for the British Museum.
Mary Kingsley was the daughter of a physician who spent most of his time traveling. Although she received no formal education (reserved for her brother Charles), Mary learned to read, becoming fascinated with subjects such as science, exploration and piracy.
At one point she was granted permission to teach herself German, but only after she could iron a shirt properly. Mary learned chemistry, experimented with gunpowder and electricity, and became engrossed by the intricacies of plumbing. After years of caring for her invalid mother, in 1892 both her parents died. With the small inheritance left to her came the fulfillment of a dream: to explore West Africa.
When Mary crashed into the leopard pit, she was traveling in what was then the French Congo, getting to know the Fangs, reportedly a tribe of cannibals. Traveling by canoe, she was once marooned in a crocodile-infested lagoon. When one tried to climb aboard, she was there with a paddle, ready to “fetch him a clip on the snout.”
After two trips, she wrote a book called Travels in West Africa. She became a sought-after lecturer and celebrity. In public appearances she was both funny and serious, peppering her narrative with jokes, often at her own expense, but also being critical of the way the British had steamrolled into the African continent, with little regard for its ancient cultures.
In 1900 she sailed to Africa for the third time, responding to an urgent call for nurses in South Africa, where war was underway. Assigned to a hospital where hundreds of soldiers were dying from a raging epidemic, she became ill herself, and died two months later. She was buried at sea with military honor.
In her book, she remembers: “Indeed, much as I have enjoyed life in Africa, I do not think I ever enjoyed it to the full as I did when dropping down the Rembwe… Ah me! Give me a West African river and a canoe for sheer pleasure.”
Rave reviews for Roxie Munro's book Market Maze:
"A great way to introduce kids to their foods' origins and to prepare them for a greenmarket visit of their own." Kirkus (Starred review!) excerpt.
"From a parent’s or teacher’s point of view, here’s a good way for kids to gain the visual discrimination skills needed for reading, while they learn about the sources of food at their local farmers’ markets. For kids, though, the combination of mazes and hidden objects is just plain fun. It’s a winning combination." Booklist review excerpt.
Roxie Munro is a member of iNK's Authors on Call so you can meet her face-to-race through interactive videoconferencing. Learn more about her programs here.
MLA 8 Citation
Munro, Roxie. "Mary Kingsley." Nonfiction Minute, iNK Think Tank, 15 Mar. 2018,