Fiction or Non-Fiction? Finding My Voice

“I am a writer.”

I forced  encouraged myself to tell someone that for the first time yesterday,  when I went in for an eye appointment with a new doctor and they were getting my background information.

“I am a writer.”

“You’re a writer? ”

“”Well, I’m trying to be a writer?” (my inevitable self-deprecation). ” That’s the first time I’ve claimed it out loud.”

“And that’s good, isn’t it?”

I thought it was good except for my  backtracking, diminishing my belief in myself as a writer. Why is it so hard to say and believe? After all, a writer writes. I write, every day. So, I’ve only been paid for a couple of articles and that was long ago. That doesn’t mean I am not a writer.

A writer is, after all, someone who writes. Of course, I want to be a writer who writes as my profession. I would like to make a little money for my words.

First, of course,  I have to produce good work.

Part of the reason that I am (sort of) taking a break from blogging (which really means giving myself permission to blog when I feel like it, rather than feeling an imagined pressure to post every day) is so that I can focus on other writing, on Works in Progress. Up until now, I’ve had a lot of Works but not a lot of Progress.

If I want to be a writer, I have to write and complete something. Yes, I technically have two books under wraps (a dissertation and a fiction novel for middle grader readers) but they remain objects of times past,  hidden in the depths of my overstuffed bookshelves where they will probably remain, unread by any new eyes.

It is time for me to move on and practice the art of writing. If I want to be an author, then I must treat author as a verb. I must author books.

So far I have written between 5000-6000 words on both of my current full-length fiction projects.  A lot of it has been character exploration, or the wanderings of my mind as I try to figure out the actual stories I am trying to tell. Some of it may make it into the books, but some may just live on as an exploration in time, place, history, character and background–all the things I need to know to make these character’s come to life for my readers. If I ever finish them enough  to have readers.

Over the past week or so, I have discovered that I can focus more on these projects by leaving my home office for part of the day. When at home, I’m more tempted to distract myself with computer games, or books, or a little tv. When in a public place, like a coffee shop, even if I have my computer I am less susceptible to the easy access available on my screen. I may check e-mail, but I focus on my goal. I have also discovered the joy of going for walks and then exploring character or story in handwritten pages on a yellow pad, which I then transfer to my computer (with edits) when I return home.

Today, however, my journey to an outside workplace  threw challenges in my writing path. First I stopped at the office supply story to buy index cards, since they helped me plot my last writing ventures. From there I headed to the coffee shop next door, only to find after purchasing my Chai Latte and a healthy snack that there was no place to sit and plot. Not a single spot.  I didn’t want to return home, so I decided to be naughty and bring my purchases to one of my other writing haunts, a nearby Barnes & Noble. I figure I spend enough money there that bringing outside food and drink was acceptable once in a while.

While driving in search of these various possible writing locations, I listened to NPR. I only caught snippets of talk shows but they were each interviews with authors. The first was with Ruth Richardson,  an expert on Charles Dickens who wrote Dickens and the Workhouse: Oliver Twist and the London Poor. While I am not an avid Dickens fan, I love hearing authors discuss their work, and I am really fascinated by history and non-fiction in general.

Should I be writing non-fiction? The question popped into my head.

The second interview was with David Rees, the author of  How to Sharpen Pencils: A Practical & Theoretical Treatise on the Artisanal Craft of Pencil Sharpening for Writers,  Artists, Contractors, Flange Turners, Anglesmiths, & Civil Servants.

I kid you not. That is the actual title.

Now, I know I am not the most comical writer in the world, so perhaps I’m not the best person to write the follow-up book of HOW TO ERASE MARKS COMPLETELY AND FULLY  AFTER USING THE PERFECTLY SHARPENED ARTISINAL PENCIL. But, the reality that a book like that exists speaks loud and clear to a fact that you can write non-fiction about anything.

Again the question, should I be focusing on non-fiction?

I can write non-fiction. I’ve been doing it almost daily in this blog. I have done it in hundreds of pages of academic speak. I have plenty of non-fiction books in my idea pile.  You know, the ideas that are works without a lot of progress.

In a publishing market where the big sellers seem to be Young Adult or non-fiction, why am I pounding away at two books that I can’t quite even classify yet? (They both lie somewhere in the realm of fantasy meets contemporary literary fiction, social satire).

In many ways I believe that part of my struggle with saying “I am a writer” relates to a general struggle I have had surrounding my life.

I cannot label myself in a single word.

Well, I can describe myself in two words: Renaissance Woman.

Perhaps I should be writing about that?

40 Comments (+add yours?)

  1. Kathryn McCullough
    May 02, 2012 @ 20:30:23

    Gotta love this “break!” No, seriously, I do the same back-tracking when I claim to be a writer. I don’t know why. It sucks. Good for you for posting only when it feels good, my friend. And congrats on a day with lots of hits! You deserve it.


  2. k8edid
    May 02, 2012 @ 20:58:06

    I think I have trouble saying “I am a writer” because I have a full-time, bill payin’ job and I feel like that defines me. But my joy is in writing (not that I dislike my profession – but it does keep me from my passion).


  3. Geoff
    May 02, 2012 @ 21:09:43

    Definitiely a writer! I did smile at the notion of you writing about deciding what to write about. I find the same with photography. Kind regards from Canberra, Australia 🙂

    ps. I came here via Broadside 🙂


  4. T (@ToscaSac)
    May 02, 2012 @ 23:00:13

    I write non fiction. I am a writer. I have a blog after all. I used to think saying I was a writer meant I needed to have a book completed or a pay check to back it up. Even a column in a publication. Now I realize nope. If all I do is journal I can call myself a writer. I really want to be known as a speaker anyway. Anyone who knows me fully believes that I am. There are just so many more I need to reach. Which gets back to how I write non fiction and blog. hahahahaha


  5. critters and crayons (@critterscrayons)
    May 03, 2012 @ 01:54:35

    Lisa- I agree with Johnson Tosca…You’re a writer. When I have to fill in those forms at the doc office or school registration, the question about my occupation is: Self-employed Freelance Writer. It’s what I do. As a blogger, I promote others and businesses- and I write a lot. It may be practice for a future book (I hope) but, in the meantime, I get stuff, too. For instance, KLOUT just awarded me 10 packets of Mango Lipton Tea I should be getting in the mail any day now. 🙂 Don’t be so hard on yourself! 🙂


    • Lisa Wields Words
      May 03, 2012 @ 07:23:10

      I just joined KLOUT and cannot, for the life of me, figure out how it works. It is a very confusing site. That said, I have in other places called myself a Freelance theatre artist, educator, arts activist and writer. That sort of sums it all up.


  6. Victoria-writes
    May 03, 2012 @ 06:50:01

    You are a writer Lisa! You’ll find your voice, I know it.


  7. Julie Frayn
    May 03, 2012 @ 08:30:05

    I am a writer. Not by profession, i don’t get paid for it (yet), but I’ll keep trying. I do write a lot in my job, not because it’s in the job description (I am an accountant after all) but because folks at work found out I write (because I tell EVERYONE that I am a writer), and they seek me out for assistance/advice/editing. Way more fun than numbers…..


  8. Hilary Clark
    May 03, 2012 @ 09:48:56

    I may not be writing much these days, but I am doing a lot of reading. And EVERYTHING I read says write what you WANT, not what you think will sell. Trends come and go.
    The story that pulls at you, tugs at you, wakes you from a sound sleep? THAT’s the story you should write, be it fiction or non-fiction.
    Good luck with whatever you decide. I’m sure it will be a fabulous book as you have a fabulous way with words.


  9. 4amWriter
    May 03, 2012 @ 12:16:55

    I think you’re wise. You’re listening to your inner voice. Blogging really does interfere with writing for pleasure, so I think by withdrawing a little bit is a healthy decision. 🙂


  10. CMSmith
    May 03, 2012 @ 19:34:35

    Glad to read you’re getting serious about writing. You can do it.


  11. mj monaghan
    May 04, 2012 @ 00:28:50

    You are definitely a writer.

    Now, stand up and say, “My name is Lisa, and I AM a writer!”

    Whether you decide on fiction or non-fiction, have your chai latte or not, and go to the bookstore, coffee shop, or stay at home; you are a writer. Own it sista!


    • Lisa Wields Words
      May 04, 2012 @ 07:28:00

      Today I actually am finding it easier to say I AM a writer, because my latest foray into employment in my field ended with another door slammed in my face. If I am not a writer I am nothing else at the moment.


  12. benzeknees
    May 04, 2012 @ 01:48:43

    Congrats on claiming the title “writer” even though you waffled a bit afterward. Only you can decide which direction to take when you write. To me, it would depend on how much I like to research. I’m not a big fan of research, so I would probably choose fiction for myself.


  13. benzeknees
    May 04, 2012 @ 04:34:52

    You have been mentioned in my blog today, please see Versatile Blogger Award.


  14. Xenoia
    May 05, 2012 @ 07:13:28

    I have this problem. I studied ancient history. But I also love fiction. But then I also have a qualification in journalism…

    I find I spend a lot of time not progressing because I can’t decide which area to focus on. If I write my fiction I feel I should be writing my academic articles…if I write those I want to be writing my fiction. Or I try to research everything and never actually get to the writing part.

    To combat this I have separate notebooks and folders for each project. I try and ‘schedule’ time in the week to work on each project and then usually one project asserts itself as foremost in my mind and I try to stay with that then until it’s complete.

    Not sure if that sort of method would help you, but it helps me 🙂 Good luck!


    • Lisa Wields Words
      May 05, 2012 @ 09:56:14

      You and I must be twins. I feel so guilty for not writing academic papers, but at the same time I really don’t want to write them. Might I suggest that you look at writing historical fiction, as all of your areas of expertise could strengthen that choice. I LOVE reading historical fiction, and have thought about writing something but the research is a little daunting. Sigh.


      • Xenoia
        May 05, 2012 @ 15:56:09

        I think it must be a drawback to uni days, the feeling bad for not writing papers. With me it’s not I don’t want to write them it’s that I want to write many other things too and haven’t the time or focus for everything.

        Historical fiction is something I love too. I have a feeling I’d get bogged down in the details though. If ever I wrote something like that I’d need a damned good editor 😛


        • Lisa Wields Words
          May 05, 2012 @ 15:58:45

          For me its the feeling that somehow I’m letting down my degree (I have both an MFA and a doctorate) by not continually pursuing academic research. I can do it, and if I am truly interested will, but I just haven’t found the thing that sparks me at the moment.

          I think everyone could use a good editor, or at least someone who speaks truth about our writing babies.


          • Xenoia
            May 08, 2012 @ 12:26:39

            True, there are a lot of people that will just pat you on the shoulder and say ‘sure, it’s great.’

            Having spent time in academic environments myself I understand what you mean. Sometimes it feels like you aren’t allowed any other interests, just the subject you study. It must be your be all and end all.

            However, I think that loving your subject AND still having an interest in the world around you is a good thing. We could all do with taking a look around once in a while and academics tend to be the worst for having a narrow world view. (Generalisation, I know but it seems to be true!)


  15. Kathy
    May 05, 2012 @ 09:11:23

    Hi, Lisa! I’ve missed you in the last week. (Since I haven’t been on the computer as much as reading blogs.) Love that you can’t limit yourself to only one word, being a writer. You probably can’t be contained in a million words: you are a bazillion different things and identities. But I think you can include “writer” as one of them. This is such a fun post. Could relate to so much of it, even the ways we distract ourselves endlessly. It sounds like you have both fiction and non-fiction in you. You could start two books simultaneously (**grin**) or just pick one and delve until it’s done and then try the other genre. Good luck, writer friend!


  16. nrhatch
    May 07, 2012 @ 16:01:44

    You say, I cannot label myself in a single word.

    I don’t see that as a problem. Anyone who is SMALL enough to fit inside a box with a single word as a label is probably not a very interesting person. 😀


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