Finding Your Place as a Writer: Fiction vs. Non-Fiction

Like most people, the majority of what I read is non-fiction. Conservatively, I would estimate I read half a dozen novels per year and twice as many non-fiction books. This does not include blogs and online articles, slanting the balance even further away from fiction.

So, I cannot help but ask myself, which would I rather write? Shouldn’t I write what I spend my time reading?

True life is tricky. Non-fiction has its own rhythm, requires research, veracity. Moreover, it comes in all shapes and sizes, from blogs, to online magazines, to full-length books. It is hard to know where to start. Then there is the issue of telling other people’s stories. I have thought about writing the stories of my first students, but somehow their histories do not feel like they belong to me, even in those moments where I was present.

Then again, fiction feels increasingly artificial to me these days. I admire those of you who consistently enjoy it, losing yourself in a world you have created. I have been there, but I am having a hard time finding my way back. Every story I begin is a dead end. Expecting Happiness still floats in the recesses of my hard drive, but it too feels stale, like the cap and gown that hang in my closet but I will never wear again. I do not identify with it in the same way I did two and a half years ago.

I know part of my disruption in focus is the transformation my life is undergoing in becoming a mother, but I find myself wondering where I will begin again. I know I will not stop, but I want to put my energy where it matters most, where I am most likely to finish what I start, to write something worthwhile.

So, seasoned writers, I want to know– how have you discovered your niche? Did you dabble in everything? Have you gone through seasons of different genres? Or, has it been a simple love for the same type of stories from the beginning?

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4 thoughts on “Finding Your Place as a Writer: Fiction vs. Non-Fiction

  1. jeffo says:

    Hmm, don’t know that I’d call myself a ‘seasoned writer’ at this point, but I’d say this: I don’t think it’s writing what you read, but writing what you feel. If you feel non-fiction in a particular way, then you should write it. If you feel fiction, write that.

    I enjoy fiction and non-fiction writing–they require overlapping, yet different, skill sets to do well, and both are creative. However, I most enjoy fiction, and I can’t quite explain why that is.

    I’m not surprised that you’re re-evaluating things, given where you are in life. Having children is a ridiculously life-changing event–in a good way!

    By the way, I was wondering about the ‘most people read more non-fiction’, but I guess if you’re including news articles, magazines, etc., that’s probably the case. I definitely read more fiction BOOKS in a year than non-fiction, but I guess if you total everything else up, it comes out on the side of non.

    • olivia says:

      I like that philosophy, write what you feel. I attended a seminar on how to teach writing recently and the required reading included a passage about how much time people spend reading fiction vs. non-fiction. If you’re curious, I can dig up the actual source. It referenced all the reading we do in life, not just books, but I do think it varies by person and that in general there is a big decline in reading for most people, so there is probably a correlation there, too.

      I have to say, fiction absolutely contains its own truths and I love reading a great novel, so I’m definitely not downplaying the merit of fiction, I just feel myself pulled in so many directions, I want to find some focus, (and where I fit best)…

  2. kingmidget says:

    Writing non-fiction never interested me because of the research and extra effort required. It seems more like work — which when you think about it, my job requires me to spend my day writing non-fiction. Other than that, I have no idea why I “chose” fiction. I just knew that I wanted to write a novel one day and when I did, the rest of the stories burst out of me.

    Every once in awhile, I read a story in the newspaper and think about how there’s a really good, true story to tell about what the newspaper article barely touches on. I think about it for a few minutes — what it would take to make it happen — and then decide to stick with my fiction.

    It’s always interesting to read your blog posts. Once again, for far different reasons, I’m kind of pondering the same thing as you are. I have actually thought a few times over the past couple of weeks that I should take a major break from writing. And maybe never come back to it. I’m not sure why. I just feel like I’ve got this huge road block in front of me and I’m not finding a way around it.

    • olivia says:

      I don’t think you’re allowed to quit writing, you’ve already committed too many words to screen/page!

      And, I know what you mean about non-fiction when you write all day at work. I used to feel that way after countless pages of economic analysis every day. Now, I miss it a bit, not the job, but the crafting of arguments, thoughtful use of evidence, etc. I think my non-fiction home would be more akin to Cheryl Strayed though, personal narrative perhaps, or something else heartfelt and not overly filtered.

      We’ll see. I don’t think giving up is an option for either of us, though. It’s just time for a thoughtful evaluation of talents best used.

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