I’m starting to pull some notes together for the Writing for Children class I’ll be visiting in a couple of weeks. The focus will be on nonfiction, but since my nonfiction experience these past few years has been limited to biographies, I’ll be concentrating on a few things I’ve learned through biography-writing that would seem to apply more broadly to other types of subjects.

(Also, I was pleased to learn, the focus of the class is on writing, not on finding an editor/publisher/agent. I’m delighted to be forced into doing some serious thinking about the craft. I fear I ruminate too much on the selling.)

The first point I plan to make to the class is that, to begin writing nonfiction, you don’t have to be an expert in the subject you’d like to write about.

Not at the outset, anyway. In fact, knowing nothing – or next to it – can be an advantage. It can put you in the same position your readers will be in when they encounter your book, which makes it easier to see the topic through their eyes and make it meaningful and relevant for them. Being a non-expert also means you’ll start off with loads of curiosity and few assumptions, both of which are conducive to asking lots of good questions.

In lieu of expertise, you just need to have an interest in a topic, the dedication to learn it inside and out, and the determination to distill what you’ve learned into a manuscript that will engage young readers.

By the time you’re finished, though, you should be an expert, meaning you should be able to hold forth on your topic at any social gathering until the last glassy-eyed guest has drifted to the other side of the room. I am speaking hypothetically.