How a "Fiction Fast" changed my life
I think it was around this time that my father instituted a “fiction fast” in the household. We all had to read and write nothing but non-fiction, for a whole month. My dad loved history and dabbled in scientific textbooks as well, so he was hoping to instill in us an appreciation for the things of real life.
Well, I hated it. I absolutely despised it and I decided that I would spend that whole month driving myself bonkers with my lack of an imaginative outlet, and then go right back to reading my beloved fiction. And that’s exactly what I did.
But…something had changed during that fiction fast. I can’t point to an “aha!” moment when I realized that non-fiction actually had its uses. I just felt a tad less antagonistic toward non-fiction because I’d had to befriend it to some extent in order to survive. I was like a kid who is used to dessert but had to eat nutritious food or starve. Somehow, being hungry made the nutritious food a little less distasteful.
Years after, in my later teens, I made several very pathetic attempts to honor my father’s request to publish a non-fiction story first. Friends and family suggested multiple ideas: a biography on a certain notable person, a children’s book on an important but little-known historical event in my home state, and many other ideas. I did tons of research, talked to people, and even started a lot of these projects, but none of them grabbed me. None of them inspired me to obsess over the topic the way that I obsessed over my fiction stories.
So I gave up in frustration. And that’s when I realized that the project I wanted had been under my nose the whole time.
The nonfiction book that started it all
I had begun working at a pregnancy center and meeting with women who faced unplanned pregnancies. At the same time, a lot of my friends were developing relationships, and some of those relationships ended up being emotionally hurtful. Some of my friends asked me questions like, “How should I relate to this guy that I have a crush on?” or “What’s appropriate physical contact between a guy and a girl?”
As a way of processing all this, I began to write down my thoughts about what relational habits and mindsets would best prepare young women for marriages that would last a lifetime and grow only more beautiful with time. Out of these thoughts came a book, entitled Ready For Him Today, which eventually became my first published book. And yes, it is non-fiction.
Later, I went on to write boatloads of nonfiction material, such as an (unpublished) book about C. S. Lewis and the authors whose works shaped Lewis' development as a writer. This was a combination of two subjects that genuinely interest me: C. S. Lewis and writing. It wasn't a hardship to write. It was fun!
Nonfiction starts with a passion.
It’s important to remember that inspiration for nonfiction can’t be forced. It comes naturally when you are truly engaged in a certain subject. Ask yourself: What do I like to do? What experiences have shaped me as a person? What inspires or impassions me?
Even though times may have changed, I would still recommend that an aspiring fiction writer should publish non-fiction first. Why? Because non-fiction helps you to solidify who you are. It puts your identity on paper. It forces you to evaluate your life and why you believe what you believe. All of those things translate directly into your fiction writing and make it stronger and more relatable.
At least, that’s what I’ve found for myself - and I’m pretty confident that it will be true for you as well.