I know Daddy’s right. But when, how, where do I begin? I’m writing an autobiography and that’s kind of fun, but a biography? I just can’t stomach writing a story about someone else who’s probably dead now and all I have is recorded details about them. Is life made up of recorded facts and data? I don’t think so! Life is the feelings and emotions, the thoughts and ideas, the everyday questions and the problems that go on inside a person’s head! No one can see them! No one! Therefore, I cannot conceive of writing a book about someone without the depth of true life in it.
Getting published takes a sound plan.
This entry records what was probably the first time I really looked hard at my future in writing and thought about the practical side of publishing. Up until now, my life had followed this pattern: “I have an awesome new story idea! I am now writing my awesome new story! I have finished my story and I hope to get it published someday! Well, on to the next awesome new story!” It was an idealistic pattern that had no real planning behind it.
Dad was the one who forced me to plan. He had done some research and talked to some people and concluded that a good writer was a versatile one. A lot of publishers, apparently, tend to categorize authors as either writers of non-fiction (books based on real life) or writers of fiction (books not based on real life). This presented a problem.
How you get stuffed in a box:
Say that I publish a couple of fantasy novels. Then I get an idea for a non-fiction book about a subject that I am very passionate about—barefoot hiking, for example. Because I am categorized as a fiction author, my skills as a writer of serious non-fiction may (unfairly) be doubted. Leaping from fiction to non-fiction requires a change in marketing strategy, perhaps even author persona. I spoke with a published author and she confirmed that this concept is true: the established fiction writer is not always accepted as a new non-fiction writer.
However, the opposite is not true. A successful non-fiction writer is assumed to be versatile and skilled overall. He has the tools to make an impression in a real-life subject, so people assume that those tools are easily translatable to the realm of fiction. The non-fiction writer is given much more benefit of the doubt and can move more easily amongst genres than the primarily fiction author.
Why the box is a problem
On the one hand, I understand the hesitation regarding fiction writers. Very few fiction writers, in my estimation, are truly talented writers. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve picked up a best-seller and discovered that the organization and writing quality and expertise in vocabulary is lacking in true excellence. For some reason, shoddy workmanship is acceptable—and unnoticed—in a lot of the fiction world.
And just so you don’t think I’m a snob, I admit that I’m not the writer I want to be either. My one consolation is that I believe I can recognize good writing when I see it. I just can’t always attain it myself. So, in a sense, I understand those people who are skeptical of a fiction writer’s ability to write “serious stuff,” which requires tight organization, hours of research, and extreme focus.
On the flip side, I think fiction writers are unfairly pegged as “non-serious writers.” If you’re a fiction writer of excellence, there is nothing weak about your writing. Many fiction writers, even fantasy or sci-fi writers, have to do a great deal of research in order to lend a necessary element of realism to their fiction. Such writers have to be keen observers of human nature, masters of vocabulary, and philosophers at heart. The life of a fiction writer is not for wimps.
There is no easier genre.
I reject the notion that fiction writing is somehow easier than non-fiction writing. I’ve done both. Neither is easy. In some ways, I find that writing non-fiction is actually easier than writing fiction, because you're basically just arranging information, not making it up as you go along. That’s a whole discussion in itself, but for now, it’s enough to say that, if a writer writes excellently, he has all the skills he needs to write in any genre he chooses.
I wonder if the situation may have changed somewhat since then, with all the changes in the industry that have occurred over the last decade or so, with self-publishing, e-books, blogging, the influence of social media, and so much more. However, at the time when my father encouraged me to plan for my future, his advice was quite sound. It was important for me to learn how to write non-fiction if I wanted to succeed as a writer.