Fiction vs. Non-Fiction: Less structure does not mean fewer hours

I’m often asked about the difference between fiction and non-fiction writing. Both require dedication and preparation, yet a different mindset.

Both also involve a ton of time. Less structure does not mean fewer hours.

Forty years in the newspaper business teaches you all about deadlines, importance of accurate facts and writing to a definite space. There are hours spent on developing sources, research and interviews. In my case, it led to books with major publishers (McGraw-Hill, John Wiley & Sons, Dearborn-Kaplan).

The business did not encourage exploring a creative imagination or wondering what could be. Get it done, get it right, get it in the paper.

For example, I loved covering college football. I’d start the day by submitting a first half play-by-play from the press box, add the second half action, and then sprint the locker room for quotes. Returning to the press box, I’d file a game story, locker room sidebar and then sub both pieces for the next edition. Action happened in front of me. People spoke with me. I recorded both in a logical way and sent it to the newsroom.

When I began focusing on fiction, nothing happened in front of me at a specific time that I needed to document and record. There was no finite space to fill. Much of my research became remembering the thoughts and emotions, smells and colors of places I’d been. Observations and reflections needed to be stowed in a memory bank or an entirely different kind of notebook. Sure, facts needed to be checked and dates confirmed, but there was no library to visit to find what could be.

What I underestimated was the time and discipline required to enhance personal imagination. What are the variety of things possible? The results proved to be more rewarding—and the preparation more time consuming. Fiction may be more casual, but it’s not easier.

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