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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 September 20, 2018

    7 Powerful Questions To Find Out What You Want To Do With Your Life

    7 Powerful Questions To Find Out What You Want To Do With Your Life

    What do I want to do with my life? It’s a question all of us think about at one point or another.

    For some, the answer comes easily. For others, it takes a lifetime to figure out.

    It’s easy to just go through the motions and continue to do what’s comfortable and familiar. But for those of you who seek fulfillment, who want to do more, these questions will help you paint a clearer picture of what you want to do with your life.

    1. What are the things I’m most passionate about?

    The first step to living a more fulfilling life is to think about the things that you’re passionate about.

    What do you love? What fulfills you? What “work” do you do that doesn’t feel like work? Maybe you enjoy writing, maybe you love working with animals or maybe you have a knack for photography.

    The point is, figure out what you love doing, then do more of it.

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    2. What are my greatest accomplishments in life so far?

    Think about your past experiences and the things in your life you’re most proud of.

    How did those accomplishments make you feel? Pretty darn good, right? So why not try and emulate those experiences and feelings?

    If you ran a marathon once and loved the feeling you had afterwards, start training for another one. If your child grew up to be a star athlete or musician because of your teachings, then be a coach or mentor for other kids.

    Continue to do the things that have been most fulfilling for you.

    3. If my life had absolutely no limits, what would I choose to have and what would I choose to do?

    Here’s a cool exercise: Think about what you would do if you had no limits.

    If you had all the money and time in the world, where would you go? What would you do? Who would you spend time with?

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    These answers can help you figure out what you want to do with your life. It doesn’t mean you need millions of dollars to be happy though.

    What it does mean is answering these questions will help you set goals to reach certain milestones and create a path toward happiness and fulfillment. Which leads to our next question …

    4. What are my goals in life?

    Goals are a necessary component to set you up for a happy future. So answer these questions:

    Once you figure out the answers to each of these, you’ll have a much better idea of what you should do with your life.

    5. Whom do I admire most in the world?

    Following the path of successful people can set you up for success.

    Think about the people you respect and admire most. What are their best qualities? Why do you respect them? What can you learn from them?

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    You’re the average of the 5 people you spend the most time with.[1] So don’t waste your time with people who hold you back from achieving your dreams.

    Spend more time with happy, successful, optimistic people and you’ll become one of them.

    6. What do I not like to do?

    An important part of figuring out what you want to do with your life is honestly assessing what you don’t want to do.

    What are the things you despise? What bugs you the most about your current job?

    Maybe you hate meetings even though you sit through 6 hours of them every day. If that’s the case, find a job where you can work more independently.

    The point is, if you want something to change in your life, you need to take action. Which leads to our final question …

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    7. How hard am I willing to work to get what I want?

    Great accomplishments never come easy. If you want to do great things with your life, you’re going to have to make a great effort. That will probably mean putting in more hours the average person, getting outside your comfort zone and learning as much as you can to achieve as much as you can.

    But here’s the cool part: it’s often the journey that is the most fulfilling part. It’s during these seemingly small, insignificant moments that you’ll often find that “aha” moments that helps you answer the question,

    “What do I want to do with my life?”

    So take the first step toward improving your life. You won’t regret it.

    Featured photo credit: Andrew Ly via unsplash.com

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