A to Z Challenge 2013

Monday, October 11, 2010

Fiction Writing Vs. Non-Fiction Writing

I'm currently embroiled in writing essays for my Cyberlaw class and I realized something about myself, so I thought I'd pause for a moment to blog about it.

As my fellow (and very talented) writer Christine can attest - everyone stop by and give her three cheers for the publication of her latest non-fiction book Emotional Intensity In Gifted Children - writing non-fiction is very challenging in its own way.  Or maybe she's a whiz at it and I'm just the one having difficulty.  It could very well be the latter.

In any event, I have been working on an essay regarding the Internet, applying law to it, and the inherent issues around concepts like trademarks and privacy.  It's difficult for me, but the reasons for the difficulties are both similar and dissimilar to my fiction writing.

The first - and most obvious - thing I notice is that I am terrible at agonizing over the right word.  No matter if I'm writing a thrilling tale about two lost teenagers in the mountains or if I'm writing a fact-based essay on the impact of jurisdiction on Internet laws, I stare at the blank screen deciding how to say what I want to say.  You'd think it'd be easier in an opinion paper, but since this is for a grade and I want to sound at least halfway competent, I choose my words carefully.  Then I backspace over a sentence here, a word there.

No, that's not exactly what I mean to say.  Delete.  Delete. Delete.  Dang-it, I don't even have one paragraph written.  Okay, where was I?

Oh yeah, I don't organize my non-fiction writing any better than I do my fiction.  Yep, I'm a pantster here too.  I can here all of you cringing, but trust me.  No matter how sporadic and undisciplined it sounds, I managed to make it through an entire Bachelors degree being this way.  I suppose I should have learned, but trying to organize a plan for an essay makes me cringe even worse than deleting the wrongly-chosen words.

Delete.  Delete.  Delete.  I suppose this is good practice for editing and revising.  Yeah, that's it.

Where these two styles are different however, is how the flow of the words happens.  With fiction, I can write and write and not worry one bit about how credible I sound (first draft, anyway).  One thing I cannot do with non-fiction however, is type something I know (or even suspect) to be incorrect.  It bugs me worse than a pianist playing an off-key note.  Or a book with dog-eared corners on the pages.   Grrrrrr.

Delete.  Delete.  Delete.  Is this getting old yet?  Heh heh.

It's interesting how many differences and similarities there are in these two distinctly different styles of writing.  Fiction is by far more enjoyable to work on IMHO, but I do agree with the necessity to be proficient in non-fiction as well.  The more capable we are in expressing ourselves in the latter, the better we'll be in the former.  Okay, that's enough distraction from homework.

How about you?  Do you find non-fiction enjoyable?  Do you approach it the same way you do fiction?


Alex J. Cavanaugh said...

All I've written so far are short articles. They weren't difficult, but I'm sure a whole book is much more challenging.

Misha said...

I find the challenge of academia enjoyable. ;-)

But I must say my first love stays with fiction.

Glynis said...

When push comes to shove, I will write non-fiction, but my preference is fiction.

I stare at a blank page for NF far longer than when I am creating fiction.

Good luck with yours, Eric.
Nissi Peters
Author Glynis Smy

Eric said...

Alex - Yeah, I can't imagine crafting an entire non-fiction book. Christine amazes me that way.

Misha - I'd rather just have a test than have to write essays actually.

Glynis - Thanks. I got some done, though I still have more to go.

Michelle McLean said...

LOL I actually find writing non-fiction easier, and I've been much more successful at it. All my publications and my first published book are nf. I think the fact that it is just a discussion of facts is what makes it easy for me. I'm not relying on my own creative talents, because nearly every point I make I can back up with outsides sources or examples from whatever work I am analyzing. Plus, I've been writing essays and papers for far longer than I've been "professionally" writing fiction, so I just have more experience at it :)

I do have to be organized when writing nf though - it makes it easier. The three main tips I highlight in my book on essay writing are make a list (brainstorm what you will write about), make notes (research and make notes on your info),and make an outline (turn your notes into an outline). Your outline is pretty much your rough draft so most of your work is done. :)NF is very hard to do by the seat of your pants, and my approach to writing it is very different from my fiction writing approach.

Eric said...

Michelle - You're probably right, of course. I probably shouldn't drive by the seat of my pants when it comes to NF. But as the man who jumped from a skyscraper said as he passed each floor...so far, so good.

So far, so good!

Michelle H. said...

I find writing non-fiction fascinating, but harder to write than fiction. I can just let the mind wonder... less backspacing since the words flow smoother... in fiction. Non-fiction does involve a lot of backspacing (delete-delete-delete!)