Monday, January 16, 2012

Don't underestimate the power of nonfiction

I'm guessing that most of you writers out there - at least the ones reading this blog - are writing fiction. Putting a lot of energy into writing our fiction, and developing our craft, is absolutely vital if we are to get anywhere with this fiction-writing thing. On the other hand, the first publication I ever had in the field of science fiction and fantasy was nonfiction.

This was 2006, and it was the first time my name ever got "out there" to the sf/f community, as opposed to being seen only by the editors who at that time were considering, and uniformly rejecting, my work. The article was called "Point of View: Reading beyond the I's" and appeared in the Internet Review of Science Fiction.

When I wrote this piece, I was lucky to be able to write it based on my knowledge of discourse analysis, a topic I studied in graduate school, as well as my lifetime's experience with reading and the time I had spent writing and honing my craft to that point. If you do have a special area of expertise, this is a great way to take advantage of it as you move into fiction writing. I use my linguistics, anthropology, and language acquisition knowledge both in writing nonfiction and in writing fiction. If you have experience with riding horses, with psychoanalysis, or physical therapy, or medicine, or physics - any and all of these can become rich resources for fiction writers. And if you can also write nonfiction to share your expertise with research-thirsty writers out there, so much the better, both for you and for all of us who want to learn.

The Internet Review of Science Fiction, unfortunately, is no more. However, there are other places that invite nonfiction, including Strange Horizons and SFSignal. And then there is always blogging. The only trick with blogging, of course, is that you should ideally have a lot to say about the topic you choose to focus on (or it will be hard to come up with enough entries on the blog to keep an audience coming back).

Yes, it takes time to write nonfiction. This is time that you could potentially be writing fiction. On the other hand, writing nonfiction can also help you hone your ease with words, and your professional persona on the web. It can even help you organize your thoughts and enhance your fiction along the way.

It's something to think about.


  1. Yes, this is something I've struggled with. Do I spend time writing nonfiction articles, which I could probably sell more easily (I'm sure Stan would snap up more from me), or focus on fiction? I have started a couple of nonfiction articles aimed at Analog, but writing time is short.... (Like you, I'm up early hoping to get some writing done this morning!)

    -- CWJ

  2. As someone who is writing mostly non-fiction, I approve this message! I am working on writing fiction too, but I've been lucky to get my non-fiction out there and some folks seem to like it.

  3. Calvin,
    It's a tough balance. I am positive you could sell things to Stan like rolling over in bed! And writing time is short. Thanks for your comment.

    I love your non-fiction. You are one of my inspirations. Thanks for the comment!

  4. Very true, Juliette. And we could even go beyond blogging and articles, reviews, etc. Until a few years ago, the longest thing I'd written was a 10k word story. Although many people had suggested I should try a novel--my ideas typically come in gallon rather than pint sizes--I was always scared (perhaps wisely) of tackling anything that large.

    After a major 2007 life event in the form of a longterm move to Greece that went disastrously wrong, I found myself--as you well know :) --writing a 135k-word nonfiction book about the experience ('Aegean Dream').

    Although I'd never imagined I'd be writing nonfiction, let alone a piece that length, the experience gave me the confidence to launch into a novel, which I'm currently halfway through. It occurs to me that a long memoir or nonfiction account contains many of the elements of a novel--characters, setting, dialogue, conflict, etc.--but since no invention is required, it's in many ways an easier exercise. After that, embarking on a novel holds far less terrors.

  5. Excellent point, Dario. Thanks for sharing your experience!