Monday, May 27, 2013

Writing Fiction vs. Writing Nonfiction

I never saw myself as a nonfiction author.

Ever since I was little I wanted to write stories. And write stories I did. (And I illustrated them, though for some reason doing that never led me to think I'd be a great artist someday.)

My creativity was praised by teachers who were delighted to have a student who enjoyed writing, and of course my parents patted me on the head and humored me. But it seemed to be really the school papers and the academic writing where I was actually making strides. Hmm.

When I got older, I wrote my first novel at age fourteen. I was over the moon with how much fun it had been to make a whole story about my very own characters, and I proceeded to show it to my grandmother and draw it a little cartoon cover. Her words were "I'm just tickled" and "Keep writing." She didn't give me much feedback, but she wanted to encourage me.

In the meantime I was getting a lot of praise for my schoolwork and my literary analyses in Honors English. It wasn't very special to me. I think I just kinda expected good grades because I knew I could write a sentence and spell decently. Hmm.

Then in senior year of high school, with two novels under my belt, my AP English teacher gave our class a choice of doing a "creative project" or a "critical project." I of course immediately jumped on the "creative project" and submitted my proposal to the teacher, which had to include three sample pieces. We were told we had to be "approved" to get to do the creative project. For some reason the teacher seemed dismayed when I declared my intent.

"But you're so good at the critical stuff," he protested. I told him I didn't care; I wanted to do the creative project. It didn't matter to me that he was constantly using my papers for the example when going over the points for the class, and I didn't care that I was supposedly good at reading and analyzing other people's work. I wanted to write my own.

The teacher ended up not even reading my submission and denying that I had even applied, then repeated "You should just do the critical paper, because you're so good at the critical stuff!" (He told me he'd "try to find" my folder. He ended up unearthing it months later, which was good because this was in the days before computers and I did not have copies. But he just gave it back to me, unread, and I had to do the critical paper because "I" missed the deadline for submitting to do the creative one. Okay. At least I wasn't the only person he was pushing an agenda on; one of the other kids in the class wanted to be a poet and this teacher kept telling him to write fiction.)

I got a 5 on the AP exam at the end of the year (which, for those not familiar with AP, was the highest possible score and it was achieved by only five kids in my school). It entitled me to two classes' worth of college credit, so I never even took a college English class. But I went on surprising teachers with my supposed clarity of thought and thorough exploration of topics in my essays and papers, and even got another teacher who kept using my stuff as an example to make handouts from. I was glad to be good at it, but it really wasn't very satisfying. The writing I loved with all my heart was the fiction I was creating. By the end of college I'd written four more novels.

I was not as good at fiction as I was at nonfiction. That's for sure.

But loving something makes you do it often, and hopefully doing it often leads you to become good. I started submitting short stories to magazines and never got anything but rejections. And I started blogging about asexuality, and all of a sudden the media was always wanting to talk to me. My quotes appeared in five mainstream print interviews; I got three television invites; I appeared in a documentary movie as an interviewee; I got mentioned on international television; I was asked to write articles for a sex-positive magazine (which ended up being my first published work). I made video blogs about the same subject and ended up with over 2,000 followers. I made a Tumblr to share my thoughts on asexuality and ended up with hundreds of people following me and thousands reblogging my writing.

But that didn't happen for my fiction.

I don't really love writing nonfiction, but according to everyone who cares, I am apparently pretty good at it. Combining those skills with a topic I am indeed passionate about--asexuality awareness--does lead me to enjoy writing nonfiction, and I especially enjoy communicating with people about the ideas we share. But my first love will always be fiction, and ultimately I don't want my devotion to my nonfiction topics to make my engagement with fiction any less intense, any less focused, any less possible for me in the future.

I'm hoping fervidly that I have indeed practiced my first love sufficiently to be good enough to get published by now. I'm so jazzed that I have a literary agent for both my fiction and my nonfiction, and I'm so excited and hopeful about the asexuality book getting out there for everyone who might want it, but worrying that the fiction is never going to sell is getting to me. I have a feeling the nonfiction will go first and I don't want it to take precedence over this other oh-so-related but oh-so-different dream of publishing stories.

I guess sometimes I can be an insecure writer right along with everyone else. :(

No comments:

Post a Comment