Alright. I’m not going to say that thing I’m not supposed to say, but I might as well give up on calling Ali Hale a guest poster. She’s more like a Featured Blogger ’round here at the Pen Men Palace. (Can we have disco music and flashing lights?)
Well, she would have been, except she called copywriters vanilla. Now I’m offended. I’m hurt. And I need to talk about my feelings with her. So while I do that, you read this post, mmkay?
Writers come in different flavors. There are copywriters, bloggers, academic writers (the vanilla of the writing world?), technical writers and…
Your local bookstore draws a clear divide between fiction and non-fiction novels, but we writers can’t be divided into two neat camps the same way, even if you tried.
When you’re standing in the non-fiction camp, it’s easy to dismiss fiction.
- Writing fiction is self-indulgence.
- Fiction doesn’t pay.
- Getting published is difficult.
- Most likely, no one’s going to read it.
- It’s hard to write good fiction.
I’d love to say there’s no grain of truth in that list. Sadly, there is. If you want to make money writing, you’re far more likely to achieve the goal through non-fiction. It’s not that hard to get good enough at non-fiction for people to buy your words.
Fiction is (if you’ll pardon the pun) a very different story.
But fiction matters, even though you’re not making money from it. Even though writing a short story takes a week of hard graft. Even though only your mom and your writers’ group will ever read your fiction.
Fiction is great training to become a good writer.
Let me tell you a quick story. When I was seventeen, I took classes in math and physics, and we studied mechanics in physics. I do not have a good mechanical head. I mix up left and right. I steer well clear of DIY.
So I found physics lessons hard. I thought I’d never get it.
Then we started doing mechanics in math, and that was even harder. (This was, incidentally, the point where I decided to pledge my troth to words and ditch my love affair with numbers…) The math lessons never became easy.
But the physics classes did.
I’ve noticed this happens with non-fiction writing. When I started blogging and writing articles, it felt damn hard. I struggled along. But once I’d acquired a ton of fiction experience under my belt, I found writing non-fiction became easier. I didn’t need to do much redrafting.
The words came out right the first time.
Fiction is really hard to write well .You might never reach world-class standard. You might never have your work published. But by writing fiction, you’re pushing those writing muscles hard. Once you’ve written a few short stories, those daily blog posts that once were hard to write are going to get a lot easier.
It’s no accident that several great bloggers also write fiction.
Naomi Dunford wants to write a romance novel (see #4 here). Hunter Nuttall posted his NaNoWriMo novel. And your very own James participates in creative fiction challenges and even runs Escaping Reality. (Or did. He’s currently on hiatus, but he still writes fiction daily.)
Of course, fiction isn’t just a good training ground to being a better writer.
Fiction is important because stories are powerful.
How often do you remember a blog post or a magazine article you read? How often do you skim the words, remember them for a little bit and then forget them?
Now answer this: How often do you remember a story?
We’re hardwired for story. (Get a copy of Chip and Dan Heath’s book Made to Stick if you want the authoritative take on this.) Stories, from simple fables to powerful novels, tend to stick.
Want an example? Go and read Tim Brownson’s post Imagine This.
As a fiction writer, you create stories. You invent characters who engage readers’ hearts and minds. You draw the reader into an invented world that makes the real one fade away like mist.
We still read novels that were written in the 18th century. We still watch plays that were written in the 16th century – or even earlier. And often, these ancient stories were based on earlier ones.
If you want your writing to outlive you, fiction is the ultimate evergreen content. Technology changes, trends come and go, scientific theories don’t last – but human nature, the subject matter of fiction, always stays the same.
Stories aren’t just powerful for readers, either.
Writing fiction can be an incredible escape for you.
This might be where the myth that fiction is an indulgence began. Writing fiction is hugely absorbing and engaging and joyful.
I love blogging, but there’s something special about writing fiction that just isn’t there in non-fiction gigs. When I write a novel, anything goes. I make up the world and I decide the plot twists. I create the characters get to write about snarky people and crazy people and amazing people. I can write witty comebacks that I’d never say aloud in real life.
I can fling words onto the page with abandon, knowing that I can always redraft, that no one ever needs to see my work but me. It’s my playground. It’s my secret world.
When something in real life is bugging me, I can escape in the fiction I’m writing. That’s not just a way of putting my head in the sand – it’s a great way to work through emotions or issues. I can channel anger or sadness or frustration into the words. I can invent characters that are kinder, braver and more patient than I am.
If you’ve ever written fiction, you’ve probably discovered the same. For some folks, fiction is literally a lifesaver. For many others, it’s a way to deal with the ups and downs and dark comedy of life. It’s an outlet, a way to take the little hurts and upsets of life and create something unique and wonderful.
Don’t ever let anyone tell you that writing fiction is self-indulgent or unimportant.
And don’t look for permission to write fiction either. You don’t need qualifications. You sure as hell don’t need to start out perfect. You don’t need to be the best fiction writer ever.
You just need to find a story – one of your stories – and start writing it.
Ali Hale changes lives and reaches readers through her powerful words. You’ll find more great advice (and stories worth reading) from Ali over at her blog,Aliventures, a place for thinking people who aren’t satisfied with easy, glib answers.
Just in case you're brand-new and feeling a little unsure about fiction, check out these top recommendations for fiction that leaps off the page, improves your non-fiction skills and gets readers falling in love with you:
- Made to Stick: Why Some Ideas Survive and Others Die
- How to Create Believable Characters
- Steven King's On Writing
You'll be writing powerful words before you know it.