I love to write and have a passion for communicating. Since I started back to college in 2005, almost all my writing has been non-fiction: research papers, literary analyses, creative non-fiction, other people’s memoirs and, more recently, my magazine features. I’m no genius, but a learning curve is a learning curve, and I have had time to travel around that curve to at least a point of competency. (Some might say instead that I have “gone ’round the bend,” but that is neither here nor there.) In short, non-fiction is my comfort zone. A nice, factual, rational comfort zone with clearly defined right and wrong ways to proceed. I don’t have to come up with stories; the people I write about have been living their stories and all I have to do is present them with appeal and fidelity.
Here are some of the skills at which I have gained some competency:
Sentences: Use correct grammar and spelling; make sure longer sentences are easy to follow– Check (usually).
Prose: Vary sentence length, use apt word pictures, limit adverbs and passive constructions– Check.
Scene: Show action on the page, bringing reader into the scene– Check.
Dialogue: Make it lean and crisp, with characters (or magazine subjects) speaking naturally– Work In Progress.
Now I have somehow acquired the bug to write fiction. Problem? There is one fiction-specific skill set that I find sadly lacking: I really don’t know how to make up a story. You’d think anyone who reads as much as I do would have absorbed that by sheer osmosis, but it’s harder than you might think if you haven’t tried it. And so I have continued to stall around in my comfort zone, too competitive to want to attempt something new unless I can do it pretty well on the first try.
I think I’m onto something now, though. Actually it was an insight that I had picked up in August from a Novel Rocket blog post, about pushing past a plateau. One idea finally percolated down to where I could apply it to my own situation: “One must first write ‘all right’ before crafting some killer Pulitzer Prize-winning prose. It’s a rite. An initiation. A common ground that all authors share at one point or another” (Michelle Griep, Novel Rocket.com, 08-20-2011).
Logically, “all right” writing is not even the first step. “Bad” writing is, unless you’re some kind of genius, which I’ve already said I’m not. And that’s what critique groups are for: they patiently read your bad writing and tell you what’s wrong with it, so you will know how to make it better. It’s humbling to think of letting anyone read a poorly-written piece that I wrote, sort of like seeing your kid running around the front yard dressed in clashing colors and with Magic Marker scribbled all over his feet, not that either of mine ever did that… necessarily.
Anyway, all that to announce publicly that I am committed to branching out and writing some fiction, which I’m sure will be quite bad. I promise to swallow my pride, show my bad fiction to a critique group or partner, make note of what they say, and revise accordingly. As near as I can figure, that is the only way I will ever learn to write good fiction.
And this is as good a time as any to start.
Thanks for reading,