Friday, March 11, 2011

For Those Fiction Writers at Heart

My writer's group is split into two very distinct camps: fiction and nonfiction. (A third, smaller percentage, are in the "undecided"/"still too nervous to get started" camp). There are four of us who pursue articles, blogs, copywriting, and the like either full- or part-time. The rest are pursuing children's/YA, etc.

I admit I'm biased. I've made some nice supplemental income as a freelancer. I've come to a place where I can't understand why a writer would work so hard at polishing and shopping around a manuscript that may never get published when there are so many other ways to make money from writing. I'm all for creative outlets for creativity's sake, but it's also nice to have something to show for your efforts after all of that hard work. I love, love, love reading fiction, but I think that's because the work is already done for me. I don't have to worry about creating a compelling opening, sagging middles, or crafting characters with distinct personalities. I find it all a bit overwhelming, actually, although I have the utmost appreciation for those writers who can do it well.

I also know a few freelancers who are uncomfortable calling themselves a "writer" when they haven't had a book published. In my mind, you're a writer if you put in the time every day/week to find new (paid) outlets for your work and complete said work on deadline. If you obsess over tracking down a particular source and find yourself jotting down even more ideas or angles on a particular topic, that makes you legit in my book.

I haven't completely shut the door on pursuing fiction a little more aggressively one day, but for now, I'm focusing my energies on articles, blogs, and copywriting. I've had a few ideas for novels lingering in the back of my mind for years, but I find that when I sit down to get started, I get overwhelmed by all of the possibilities. That little nagging voice in my head taunts me as I write: Is this too boring?, Is this character likable?, Is this something a lawyer/doctor/sommelier would actually say?, Does this sound like something I've read before?, so the project stalls. I find it easier to control that voice with nonfiction. I think the creative freedom of fiction is liberating, but if you pursue the right avenues, nonfiction can satisfy that outlet, as well ("creative nonfiction" is a whole sub-genre in itself). But for now, I'm happy to stand back and tell others' stories until I feel more prepared to tell one of my own.

What about you? Are you happy as a primarily nonfiction writer? Or does the nonfiction pay the bills while you secretly toil away at your real passion--fiction? I'd love to know!


  1. Hi! Long time, no comment. I hope you're doing well. I've had a super busy few months doing both freelance work AND fiction work. I took the plunge into full-time freelance writing around the first of the year. Since then, I've had a steady stream of business both from publications and from corporate/institutional clients. In my teeny slivers of spare time, I've been revising my first novel.

    On that novel thing.... I joked for YEARS to co-workers at various writing and editing jobs that I was the only journalist I knew who had no desire to write the great American novel. (In fact, I may have even made that comment here at some point.) It's true. I had no inkling that I'd enjoy writing fiction until one day, out of the blue, I was hit with this burning desire to do it - along with an idea for a book. That day, I sat down and pounded out a prologue. I chewed on it for a couple of months, sort of idly sketching out characters and drafting loose outlines. Then I pulled out the laptop and started writing, and 105,000 words later, I had a first draft.

    Then I started the infinitely more difficult process, believe it or not, of learning about what I was doing. That's when I discovered blogs and bloggers and blogging, and I've learned so much from them. I've also read one or two books on craft and I've READ, period, to study different genres and techniques.

    I'm still revising. I've been revising my first novel now longer than I spent writing it. And I am making progress - I'm seeing the light at the end of the tunnel and hope to have a critique-ready draft finished soon.

    It's harder to write "for fun" now that I'm writing full-time for work, but I enjoy it just as much as I did before. One thing I've learned through all this is that I *am* a writer and I'll always be a writer. And more than anything, I love writing fiction.

    And no one could be more surprised by that than me.

  2. Oh, and as for that question about why a writer would spend so much time polishing a manuscript she might not get paid for when there's so much paid writing work out there to do, all I can say is it's definitely a labor of love. I'm so much more attached to my fiction work than to any non-fiction work I've ever produced. I can honestly say that, although I do hope to have my fiction published one day, I'm not doing it for the money.