Writing Whiplash: Fiction and Nonfiction

Okay, I’ll admit it up front. I’m insanely envious of authors who can stay at home and actually write. Most of the full-time writers I know are supported by their spouses. A couple actually support themselves by writing.

The rest of us have to schlep off to work for a living. And some of us write nonfiction for a living and then go home at night to write fiction for our creative souls.

That’s the boat I’m sailing on, and the waters are rough sometimes. I don’t sleep much anymore, for example–but sleeping is highly overrated, right?

But writing fiction has had some unexpected impact on my nonfiction, and vice-versa.

Good News for Nonfiction

Once upon a time (say, a couple of years ago), I wrote longform features on instinct, churning out from 2,000 to 4,000 words by a rough formula: hooky beginning, summary paragraph, two or three salient points, ending. Now I put a lot more thought up front into how I’m going to tell my story. I think of my story arc–my “plot,” if you will, who my characters are, how they progress through the story, where the closure falls at the end.

The formula is gone now, and the writing has improved. This piece on Habitat for Humanity founder, the late Millard Fuller, was awarded second place in feature writing in last year’s Writer’s Digest 76th Annual Writing Competition. This piece on the local foods movement won a couple of national awards this spring from the Council for the Advancement and Support of Education. I would have handled these stories differently before I began writing fiction.

Good News for Fiction

The nonfiction work has helped the fiction as well. Maybe not the writing itself–I automatically write everything using Associated Press Style, and then have to back up and insert pesky serial commas, and I’m too heavy on dialogue attribution until I go back and “un-journalism” the story. Writing emotion is also difficult for me, because the elusive quest for “journalistic objectivity” has beaten it out of me.

But I’m used to working on deadline, and meeting deadlines–a big plus for fiction-writing. I also don’t sit around and wait for the “muse” to appear. Writer’s block? Don’t believe in it. I just sit down and write something. I might end up tossing it, but I will write something.

So that’s my two hats. As I write this, I’m shucking off the fiction hat and pulling on the nonfiction hat, getting ready to go to the day job.

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About Suzanne Johnson

Author of urban fantasy, paranormal romance, and suspense. As Suzanne Johnson, she is the author of the Sentinels of New Orleans urban fantasy series (Royal Street; River Road: Elysian Fields, Pirate's Alley, Belle Chasse, Frenchmen Street (March 2018). Writing as Susannah Sandlin, she is the author of the Penton Legacy series (Redemption; Absolution; Omega; Storm Force; Allegiance; ILLUMINATION); The Collectors series (Lovely, Dark, and Deep; Deadly, Calm, and Cold); and the Wilds of the Bayou series (Wild Man's Curse; Black Diamond).

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