Thursday, February 28, 2008

Writing Fiction and Nonfiction

Posted by Lynne Griffin

Next month--March 24th to be precise--I will be teaching my first writing class at Grub Street. I've been teaching at the graduate level for years, such things as techniques of counseling, group dynamics, effective teaching, curriculum design and writing for publication. But never writing to writers.

I can't wait.

In every writing class I've taken, the instructor uses the equivalent of an icebreaker, in the form of a writing exercise. While I don't mind them in class, I'm not one to use them personally to limber up my synapses or to work out my writer's block. Like sharing work in a writing class, I think their use can be risky. Beginning writers may feel intimidated. Advanced writers annoyed with what could be perceived as a time waster.

So I've decided, and I'd love your opinion on this, to start my workshop off respecting something everybody has and most people like to share. Opinions.

Each time the writers' group meets, before and after we critique pages, we discuss the subtleties of the writing process, and the complexities of the marketplace. Our individual and collective experiences are a tangle of thoughts, feelings, and actions that together shape our personal opinions.

Imagine sitting around a table, in a setting that inspires. With ground rules for respecting everyone's opinion established, and expectations that everyone who'd like to share can share, we'll challenge our thinking.

Here are just a few of the opinions I want to discuss with my students. Feel free to weigh in.

  1. Excellent writers know exactly how they work and why their process is effective.
  2. Writing nonfiction and fiction are two completely different experiences; they can't be compared.
  3. A writer limits the likelihood of success if he or she divides time between writing fiction and nonfiction.
  4. Agents don't represent writers who choose to write in a different genre once signed for another.
  5. For the writer with a multifaceted writing identity, the marketplace won't know how to market the writer.
So what do you think? For these and other questions I'll pose, there are no right or wrong answers. Only opinion--formed through the personal experiences of the students. I hope getting a discussion going on what could be perceived as controversial topics will spice up my workshop. Feel free to toss more questions my way or offer your thoughts on the ones listed above. I'll report back after I run the class. Wish me good luck.

5 comments:

Hallie said...

Interesting and provocative statements... comments on two...

"Writing nonfiction and fiction are two completely different experiences; they can't be compared." Actually I think they can be compared and the comparison is useful. JUST FOR EXAMPLE, in lots of kinds of nonfiction writing, 'narrative voice' doesn't really factor in, and yet it's just about THE most important thing in making fiction work. Another observation: adverbs and adjectives are the essence of "telling" instead of "showing" in fiction, and generally best kept to a miinimum. In (certain kinds of) nonfiction, adverbs and adjectives are really useful in communicating complex ideas with a minimum of words.

And: "A writer limits the likelihood of success if he or she divides time between writing fiction and nonfiction." This is simply not true. And something else...nonfiction is MUCH EASIER TO SELL than fiction. Easier to publicize, too. Having said that, it is VERY difficult to make the leap from publishing genre fiction to publishing "literary" fiction. Lots of authors change their names in order to break through that particular glass wall.

Agents don't represent writers who choose to write in a different genre once signed for another.

Hallie said...

Oops...meant to add that my agent represents both my fiction and my nonfiction. Not all do.
Hallie

Anonymous said...

Having made the progression from non-fiction to fiction to creative non fiction, I'd say that the boundaries today are blurring more than ever, so that there is more flexibility for writers to mix up their genres without penalty, as long as the work itself has merit.

The Writers' Group said...

Hallie,

I couldn't agree more with your points, especially since I write nonfiction and fiction. As for agents, I too have the same one for both.

Your comments validate my idea to use this conversation as a jumping off point for my workshop. Thanks for weighing in!

Anonymous,
I'm with you--it's all about the merit of the work. Boundaries are a wonderful thing, in say, parenting. But boundaries were made to be pushed when it comes to living a literary life!

Lynne

Sustenance Scout said...

What a great comment, Lynne, about pushing those boundaries every which way as a writer of whatever one chooses. The writers in your workshops are going to get a lot out of these discussions alone; what a great introduction to what really matters as one leads a literary life. K.