I laugh when people say writing nonfiction is easier than fiction.
There is nothing easy about writing, period.
I tweeted that earlier this week and while most people agree, there are several MFA types who argued that writing fiction is much more difficult because an author must understand the mechanics of writing, the craft of writing, the process of writing — something a nonfiction writer will never understand. Some said fiction is an art, whereas nonfiction is a formulaic craft — basically the difference is an artist vs. a craftsman.
I couldn’t disagree more (and no offense to my MFA friends — I adore you and appreciate your feedback).
As a writer of many short stories over the years (and sold a few back in college to newspapers), I get that there is a an art to writing good fiction. No question. As an avid reader most of my life, I know I have certain requirements for a novel: deep characters, a plot that moves along, not to much in the way of ‘exposition,’ (description of the plant outside the window, or the dark and stormy night). I’m not super hard to please — like most readers, I simply want to be entertained.
Writing a great plot, deep characters, with lyrical prose or a complicated yet fascinating story is incredibly hard. I would never venture to say that it’s not. Creating something from nothing is magical, in my opinion. For me, as a reader of both nonfiction and fiction, and a writer of primarily nonfiction, I can say that if a book grabs me and doesn’t let me go, I’ll be a fan for life.
This doesn’t mean that it’s a competition. There’s a segment of the publishing community that discounts one genre over another based on skill level required or education. I personally think that’s silly. There are plenty of books people adored that I got bored with or downright hated (The Corrections by Jonathan Franzen — kill me now. Gone Girl by Gillian Flynn — snoozer. Sorry, call me crazy, but there you have it). Highly educated, talented authors who put me to sleep.
But I’m just one little person. Does my opinion — and my money — really matter?
As for writing fiction, I don’t enjoy it. I’m impatient. Real-life fascinates me and that’s why I’m more drawn to it. Am I drawn to it because it’s easier? For me it is! But that’s not the case for many.
There are many types of nonfiction: narrative nonfiction, creative nonfiction, articles, blog posts, and essays. I’ve read deadly dull memoirs where I wondered, ‘How on earth did this person land a book deal to write this minutiae?’ Ack. Not everything needs to be written and shared.
That’s where I think is the skill involved in nonfiction. Not only giving ourselves permission to write about incredibly difficult topics that make people uncomfortable (as I did in Broken Pieces), but to also know what’s worth writing about and what’s just…not.
Writing Broken Pieces was one of the most satisfying experiences of my life. Yet the dichotomy isn’t lost on me — it was difficult and easy at the same time.
We write what interests us. We write what we are drawn to. Yes, there are plenty of techniques any writer can employ, but to be honest, many writers use them anyway without knowing their official name (i.e., personification, alliteration, etc). If an author is well-versed in technique, does that mean their book will be a blockbuster? No way. Same goes with the converse: can a high school graduate (or less) write a book worth reading? You bet.
Another thought: nonfiction has proven to be easier to sell than fiction, particularly short stories. Why? Typically, you can read nonfiction pieces faster and you can find them everywhere (look at the internet, social media, blogs).
Sometimes the competition between various ‘factions’ of publishing becomes a little too much for me. The bottom line for writers: write a great book. For readers: when you find great books, share them with everyone you know, review them, shout out your favorite authors on social media or your blog.
(Want to learn more about the difference between writing nonfiction and fiction? Check out The Write Practice.)
I’m thrilled to announce that my latest release, Broken Pieces, made the finals of the eFestival of Words Awards. If you’d like to vote, here’s the link (note: you do have to create an account with an email and password only, then click on Awards Hall for Nonfiction). Thank you!