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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 December 10, 2019

    5 Smart Reasons to Start Journal Writing Today

    5 Smart Reasons to Start Journal Writing Today

    Here’s the truth: your effectiveness at life is not what it could be. You’re missing out.

    Each day passes by and you have nothing to prove that it even happened. Did you achieve something? Go on a date? Have an emotional breakthrough? Who knows?

    But what you do know is that you don’t want to make the same mistakes that you’ve made in the past.

    Our lives are full of hidden gems of knowledge and insight, and the most recent events in our lives contain the most useful gems of all. Do you know why? It’s simple, those hidden lessons are the most up to date, meaning they have the largest impact on what we’re doing right now.

    But the question is, how do you get those lessons? There’s a simple way to do it, and it doesn’t involve time machines:

    Journal writing.

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    Improved mental clarity, the ability to see our lives in the big picture, as well as serving as a piece of evidence cataloguing every success we’ve ever had; we are provided all of the above and more by doing some journal writing.

    Journal writing is a useful and flexible tool to help shed light on achieving your goals.

    Here’s 5 smart reasons why you should do journal writing:

    1. Journals Help You Have a Better Connection with Your Values, Emotions, and Goals

    By journaling about what you believe in, why you believe it, how you feel, and what your goals are, you understand your relationships with these things better. This is because you must sort through the mental clutter and provide details on why you do what you do and feel what you feel.

    Consider this:

    Perhaps you’ve spent the last year or so working at a job you don’t like. It would be easy to just suck it up and keep working with your head down, going on as if it’s supposed to be normal to not like your job. Nobody else is complaining, so why should you, right?

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    But a little journal writing will set things straight for you. You don’t like your job. You feel like it’s robbing you of happiness and satisfaction, and you don’t see yourself better there in the future.

    The other workers? Maybe they don’t know, maybe they don’t care. But you do, you know and care enough to do something about it. And you’re capable of fixing this problem because your journal writing allows you to finally be honest with yourself about it.

    2. Journals Improve Mental Clarity and Help Improve Your Focus

    If there’s one thing journal writing is good for, it’s clearing the mental clutter.

    How does it work? Simply, whenever you have a problem and write about it in a journal, you transfer the problem from your head to the paper. This empties the mind, allowing allocation of precious resources to problem-solving rather than problem-storing.

    Let’s say you’ve been juggling several tasks at work. You’ve got data entry, testing, e-mails, problems with the boss, and so on—enough to overwhelm you—but as you start journal writing, things become clearer and easier to understand: Data entry can actually wait till Thursday; Bill kindly offered earlier to do my testing; For e-mails, I can check them now; the boss is just upset because Becky called in sick, etc.

    You become better able to focus and reason your tasks out, and this is an indispensable and useful skill to have.

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    3. Journals Improve Insight and Understanding

    As a positive consequence of improving your mental clarity, you become more open to insights you may have missed before. As you write your notes out, you’re essentially having a dialogue with yourself. This draws out insights that you would have missed otherwise; it’s almost as if two people are working together to better understand each other. This kind of insight is only available to the person who has taken the time to connect with and understand themselves in the form of writing.

    Once you’ve gotten a few entries written down, new insights can be gleaned from reading over them. What themes do you see in your life? Do you keep switching goals halfway through? Are you constantly dating the same type of people who aren’t good for you? Have you slowly but surely pushed people out of your life for fear of being hurt?

    All of these questions can be answered by simply self-reflecting, but you can only discover the answers if you’ve captured them in writing. These questions are going to be tough to answer without a journal of your actions and experiences.

    4. Journals Track Your Overall Development

    Life happens, and it can happen fast. Sometimes we don’t take the time to stop and look around at what’s happening to us at each moment. We don’t get to see the step-by-step progress that we’re making in our own lives. So what happens? One day it’s the future, and you have no idea how you’ve gotten there.

    Journal writing allows you to see how you’ve changed over time, so you can see where you did things right, and you can see where you took a misstep and fell.

    The great thing about journals is that you’ll know what that misstep was, and you can make sure it doesn’t happen again—all because you made sure to log it, allowing yourself to learn from your mistakes.

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    5. Journals Facilitate Personal Growth

    The best thing about journal writing is that no matter what you end up writing about, it’s hard to not grow from it. You can’t just look at a past entry in which you acted shamefully and say “that was dumb, anyway!” No, we say “I will never make a dumb choice like that again!”

    It’s impossible not to grow when it comes to journal writing. That’s what makes journal writing such a powerful tool, whether it’s about achieving goals, becoming a better person, or just general personal-development. No matter what you use it for, you’ll eventually see yourself growing as a person.

    Kickstart Journaling

    How can journaling best be of use to you? To vent your emotions? To help achieve your goals? To help clear your mind? What do you think makes journaling such a useful life skill?

    Know the answer? Then it’s about time you reap the benefits of journal writing and start putting pen to paper.

    Here’s what you can do to start journaling:

    Featured photo credit: Jealous Weekends via unsplash.com

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