There is something comforting about writing non-fiction pieces. The events, the descriptive narrative, the cast of “characters”, the plot, the truth to it all. Nobody can really argue about the things that took place or the simple fact that what happened happened and you can’t change it. You can’t go back and erase it and rewrite it or delete it altogether because then you mess up the whole story. The truth in the story is the story itself. It’s non-fiction. It happened. And you can’t be criticized for telling things that happened if what you’re telling is true.
I’m not referring to Civil War history or speeches from the White House or any of that. Instead I’m talking about literary non-fiction, the creative storytelling of truths. Loved ones, acquaintances, and strangers alike cannot judge me by what I write about my own life or experiences except to criticize my reactions and feelings about a situation. But we all do that to each other in real life anyway, so there’s hardly any hurt feelings because of that. As obvious as it may be saying it here on my blog…I have no problem writing about things that really happen.
It’s the make-believe that makes me nervous.
I took as many writing courses as I could throughout my years as a college student (and believe me, that was many, many years) and I always enjoyed each opportunity I was given to write. Whether it was a research paper, an opinion piece, or something for my non-fiction composition class, I was the nerd-girl who couldn’t wait to get home and start writing even before the moaners in class were finished moaning because they were only in this class for the required credits. From the beginning, I was singled out as one of the best students in the class, always eager to write more and more and more. I was encouraged to submit my essays to such publications as National Geographic and Rolling Stone, but I never did. Instead, I needed to find my own small bit of confidence, in my own small way, and decided to submit my works to the local community college literary magazine. Each of my submissions have been accepted but, after reading some of the others’ pieces that were published in the magazine, I can honestly say I’m a better writer than some but not as good as others. And I want to be as good, if not better, than the others.
The problem is I can’t seem to stray from my creative non-fiction tendencies. When I feel the need to make up a story, the (ir)rational part of my brain tells me that people won’t like it, people will criticize my words and my thoughts and my imaginary beings and places and ideas and I am not ready to be criticized that way. To write about a character whose personality is created entirely by me leaves me to be the one open to harsh judgments and disapproval. I’d be the one with the shortcomings. Not my words or my thoughts or my imaginary beings or places or ideas. Me. Incapable, flawed, broken Me.
I’ve been thinking about this alot lately because I’m so unhappy with my day-to-day life. It’s a snooze…seriously. Like Groundhog Day but I’m totally without Andie MacDowell’s gorgeous hair. My current courseload at school makes me cry. Not because it’s too difficult or overwhelming. Hardly. I’m taking two classes a semester simply so I can have free/me time to write. I just hate that I’m not in school for the one thing I want to spend my time studying. It’s funny, this writing need. It was only a few years ago that I would have to wait and wait (very impatiently, I might add) for my daughter to finally fall asleep just so I could go outside and smoke my precious little cigarettes. We smokers are a special breed – rain, snow, sleet, threats of hurricane-force winds or prowling rabid bears, none of those pesky nuisances kept us from doing what we loved most. Smokin’. I don’t smoke anymore, but this writing thing reminds me of those nights, of waiting for the kid to fall asleep so I can finally get all the mangled thoughts of the day out of my head and onto paper (or Microsoft Word doc…whatever). I will admit that I sometimes ask the kid to give me just five minutes!!!!! of alone time so I can put together a sentence I’m happy with. And it’s not rare to find me still awake at 1am writing some silly nonsense story that never gets posted or published. I make time to write, even if it means abandoning sleep. Even if it means having to face the threat of rain, sleet, snow, rabid animals…blahblahblah, I’d still do it. Because I have to.
There’s a word for this. No, the word is not crazy. It’s an actual scientific word. Sylvia Plath had it. She also had the crazy, but that’s neither here nor there right now.
So, in short, fiction makes me nervous. But I’m going to do my best to break out of that by taking in the words of some of my former professors (one of whom was a Pushcart Prize nominee, if I may toot my own horn. Toot.). One of my “New Things to Do in 2010” is to actually pull together a query letter and shop my little fiction story around town. I’m quite proud of this gem I wrote about two years ago. We’ll see what happens.