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Nonfiction and Fiction Writing – Worlds Apart

Nonfiction and Fiction Writing – Worlds Apart

    One of my role models is Cory Doctorow.  Cory’s the co-editor of Boing Boing and the author of Little Brother, a teen sci fi adventure set in San Francisco in the near future.

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    I love Cory because like me, he has about ten jobs, and I admire him because he’s made a successful transition from nonfiction to fiction writing.  You heard it here – this year I’m hoping to publish my YA (young adult) novel, Doubtful Sound.  The book is in editing right now, and here are some things I’ve learned about how writing fiction for teens is different from writing career advice for the over twenty set:

    Good fiction writing does not happen on command: When I’m on deadline for a Wall Street Journal piece, I just sit down and write.  It doesn’t matter if I’m not in the mood, I produce anyway, and I’m fortunate in that the quality does not suffer.   For my fiction to be any good, however, I have to feel inspired, and such a feeling is often difficult to pin down.  If I had to earn a living every week based on how many decent fiction paragraphs I could churn out, I would probably starve.

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    Good fiction writing is an art form: To write my journalism articles, and even my nonfiction books, I follow a strict process that begins with research, continues with interviewing and draft writing, and finishes with one – maybe two – edits.  When my editors provide feedback, it’s usually in the form of nips and tucks.  Novel writing, on the the other hand, involves mixing a pallet of characters, settings, and plot lines.  Sometimes you get lucky and you come across something brilliant, and sometimes it all goes horribly wrong.  And the editing is often done by chainsaw.

    An objective style will kill you: My nonfiction editors balk when I insert too much of myself in my material, even when it’s an opinion piece.  My job is to be a non-partisan distributor of information, and I am to do that job as parsimoniously as possible.  As a fiction writer, though, I am expected to possess an artistic style that is unlike anyone else on the planet, and to feel comfortable expressing that style fully.  A removed, unrelatable author and/or narrator is the kiss of death.  This takes some getting used to, and I’m still working at it.

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    Immersion helps: I write nonfiction pieces on so many different careers and aspects of the business world that if I were to go onsite and experience each and every one for myself, I would never get anything done.  I rely instead on the accounts and experiences of others to make my material true to life.  As a writer of YA fiction, I can’t get away with this.  In order to accurately portray the lives of teens in the early 2000s, I need to be among them.  For this reason, I workshopped my novel at a private school in Chicago among 60 eighth graders.  What I lost in time, I more than made up for in authenticity.

    Maybe it’s different for everyone who writes both nonfiction and fiction, but for me, the latter is much, much, more difficult.  Fiction writing is more creative, but you shouldn’t be fooled.  The effort and strategy that go into every strong novel are immense and sometimes overwhelming.  I am humbled to think that someday my book can stand alongside the novels of authors who make it look easy.

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    Last Updated on May 17, 2019

    This Is What Happens When You Move Out Of the Comfort Zone

    This Is What Happens When You Move Out Of the Comfort Zone

    The pursuit of worthwhile goals is a part of what makes life enjoyable. Being able to set a goal, then see yourself progress towards achieving that goal is an amazing feeling.

    But do you know the biggest obstacle for most people trying to achieve their goals, the silent dream killer that stops people before they ever even get started? That obstacle is the comfort zone, and getting stuck there is bound to derail any efforts you make towards achieving the goals you’ve set for yourself.

    If you want to achieve those goals, you’ll have to break free from your comfort zone. Let’s take a look at how your life will change once you build up the courage to leave your comfort zone.

    What Is the Comfort Zone?

    The comfort zone is defined as “a behavioural state within which a person operates in an anxiety-neutral condition, using a limited set of behaviours to deliver a steady level of performance.”

    What stands out to me the most about that definition is the last part: “using a limited set of behaviours to deliver a steady level of performance.” How many successful people do you know who deliver a steady level of performance?

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    The goal in life is to continually challenge yourself, and continually improve yourself. And in order to do that, you have move out of your comfort zone. But once you do, your life will start to change in ways you could never have imagined. I know because it’s happening right now in my own life.

    Here’s what I’ve learned.

    1. You will be scared

    Leaving your comfort zone isn’t easy. In fact, in can be downright terrifying at times, and that’s okay. It’s perfectly normal to feel a little trepidation when you’re embarking on a journey that forces you to try new things.

    So don’t freak out or get overwhelmed when you feel yourself getting a little scared. It’s perfectly normal and all part of the process. What’s important is that you don’t let that fear hold you back. You must continue to take action in the face of fear.

    That’s what separates winners from losers.

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    2. You will fail

    Stepping out of your comfort zone means you’re moving into uncharted territory. You’re trying things that you’ve never tried before, and learning things you’ve never learned before.

    That steep learning curve means you’re not going to get everything right the first time, and you will eventually fail when you move out of your comfort zone. But as long as the failures aren’t catastrophic, it can actually be a good thing to fail because …

    3. You will learn

    Failure is the best teacher. I’ve learned more from each one of my failures than I have from each one of my successes. When you fail small, and fail often, you rapidly increase the rate at which you learn new insights and skills. And that new knowledge, if applied correctly, will eventually lead to your success.

    4. You will see yourself in a different way

    Once you move out of your comfort zone, you immediately prove to yourself that you’re capable of achieving more than you thought was possible. And that will change the way you see yourself.

    Moving forward, you’ll have more confidence in yourself whenever you step out of your comfort zone, and that increased confidence will make it more likely that you continue to step outside your comfort zone. And each time you do, you’ll prove to yourself again and again what you’re really capable of.

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    5. Your peers will see you in a different way

    Whether we want to admit or not, people judge other people. And right now, people view you in a certain way, and they have a certain idea of what you’re capable of. That’s because they’ve become accustomed to seeing you operate in your comfort zone.

    But once you move out of your comfort zone, you’ll prove to other people, as well, that you’re capable of much more than you’ve shown in the past.

    The increased confidence other people place in you will bring about more opportunities than ever before.

    6. Your comfort zone will expand

    The good thing about the comfort zone is that it’s flexible and malleable. With each action you take outside of your comfort zone, it expands. And once you master that new skill or action, it eventually becomes part of your comfort zone.

    This is great news for you because it means that you can constantly increase and improve upon the behaviors that you’re comfortable with. And the more tools and skills you have at your disposal, the easier it will be to achieve your goals.

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    7. You will increase your concentration and focus

    When you’re living inside of your comfort zone, the bulk of your actions are habitual: automatic, subconscious, and requiring limited focus.

    But once you move out of your comfort zone, you no longer rely on those habitual responses. You’re forced to concentrate and focus on the new action in a way you never do in your comfort zone.

    8. You will develop new skills

    Moving out of your comfort zone requires that you develop new skills. One of the many benefits you’ll experience is that you’ll be stepping away from the “limited set of behaviors” and start to develop your ability and expertise in new areas.

    Living inside of your comfort zone only requires a limited skill set, and those skills won’t contribute much to your success. Once you can confidently step outside of your comfort zone and learn a new skill, there’s no limit to how much you can achieve.

    9. You will achieve more than before

    With everything that happens once you move out of your comfort zone, you’re naturally going to achieve more than ever before.

    Your increased concentration and focus will help you develop new skills. Those new skills will change the way you see yourself, encouraging you to step even further out of your comfort zone.

    Featured photo credit: Josef Grunig via farm3.staticflickr.com

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