I’ve had a reasonable level of success writing non-fiction. As my agent reminded me a few weeks ago, non-fiction is “where the money is” and I have to agree that my experience to date suggests that most writers will only make money through ventures other than writing fiction. I’ve met countless authors whose work I admire who earn their crust teaching, not writing. Non-fiction however, is a way to earn a reasonable living, though it’s still a struggle.
But it was always my dream to write fiction, and I realised about two years ago that as long as I carry on prioritising non-fiction then the fiction was never going to happen. I simply couldn’t hold two books in my head at the same time. So I started saying ‘no’ to longer projects, only taking on articles and teaching work.
“It’ll be fine,” I told myself. “Writing fiction is going to be much easier. You can write what you want and there is no research.”
How wrong can you be?
There is some research, but you know, it doesn’t take a lot of time – even if you are writing something like historical fiction or crime fiction, research shouldn’t take that long. No, it’s not that. It’s the fact that you have so much freedom, you have to make choices, and that takes time. What is going to happen to each character? Who are the characters? What are the themes? Setting? Time? Place? Who is telling the story? First or third person? Tense? Single narrator or multiple? How does it begin? Where does it begin? Where and when does it end? Is the question you pose at the beginning, answered satisfactorily by the end?
And once you’ve answered all those questions, and perhaps by now you have a rough first draft, then there is the re-writing, the re-drafting, pulling it into shape. Then fine editing – getting rid of all those excess words, those adverbs…
None of this happens in non-fiction. Here, you start with a word length. Then you consider what you need to say, break it down into smaller chunks, decide how many words you need for each chunk, and write it. Done. The longest it has ever taken me to write a non-fiction book is four months – and that was because I had to do a LOT of research. The shortest one was three weeks. (And we moved house in those three weeks).
I’ve just finished my second young adult novel, my third novel to date. (Tombstone). I think I’m getting better. There is not quite as much to learn this time round. But it’s still taken me nine months. And there were several months of thinking, jotting notes and reading that happened beforehand. There were days when I felt like I was trying to squeeze blood from a stone. There were days when I wrote only a few words. At times it was torture.
But having finished it; guess what? I can’t wait to start the next one!
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