Tuesday, May 27, 2008

Does writing fiction affect the non-fiction writing process?

The launch of my debut novel, Climbing the Stairs, is going very well indeed. On the 1st of May, we celebrated with a reading and autograph party at The Other Tiger Bookstore in Westerly, RI, on the 17th at Barrington Books, RI, on the 18th at Front Street Books, MA, and on the 31st there will be another reading at Books on the Square in Providence.

Fine, you’re thinking. So what in heaven does this have to do with the INK Blog? This blog isn’t about novel writing, for Pete’s sake, you’re saying to yourself. It’s about interesting nonfiction.

Well, that’s true. But since I read Tanya's post of long ago and her very true words "I suspect that rethinking nonfiction means different things to each of us", I've realized that to me, one aspect of rethinking nonfiction that interests me is how fiction writing has influences nonfiction writing and vice versa.

That's been on my mind quite a bit these days – especially because I was also recently notified that I won the SCBWI Magazine Merit Award in the Nonfiction category for my article, The Power of Peace, which appeared in the October issue of Faces – and, incidentally, incorporated some of the research I’d done for the novel. The novel is set in India in the 1940’s – the time of the nonviolent Indian independence movement, led by Gandhi. The article is a nonfiction piece about the Gandhian revolution. That's one obvious example of how my fiction affected my nonfiction.

But was there anything in the actual process of writing a novel that I can apply to my nonfiction writing? That’s what I plan to blog about for the next few months: how features that we often associate with novel writing (such as “show don’t tell”, “plot”, “character”, “pacing” and “setting”) translate in terms of writing creative nonfiction. Yes, I can assure you that in my head, anyway, these terms apply equally well in the nonfiction world. And I will try to blog about why and how they do.

But before we go there, I’d like to start with one of the most important lessons I learned through writing my novel, which is about writing even on the "bad" days. Writing a novel or a long nonfiction book is like running a marathon, I think, while writing a picture book is like running the 100m dash – somewhat different in terms of the training and mindset required in some ways - but both require sustained effort and there are many similarities between the two types of writing. As I (and every other author of a picture book is well aware) a picture book is just as time-consuming and all-enveloping an effort as is writing a longer book.
Here are two tips on one important question about sustaining effort and staying interested enough in a topic to write hundreds of pages about it (or writing 16 pages and revising and polishing those 100 times over).

1.I switch to another book-related activity.For instance, I might decide to visit a writing blog, read a book that is somehow connected to the work at hand. And I don’t just do this passively – I take out my pencil and write down notes – if nothing else – even just words that leap out at me while I read. The key here, though, is that I set my alarm clock first, so it goes off in about 20 minutes or half an hour. Once that time elapses, I get right back to writing again.

2.I’m no artist, but sometimes I get out a pencil and draw the scene/concept/topic I’m having difficulty with. I think this can be really helpful at times, because it forces you to think of the topic in a different way and it can turn on the creative switch and thus help me explain it better.

That, at any rate, is my 2 cents. I’d love to have others comment on what they do on days when the muse doesn't seem to sit on their shoulders (or whatever it is that muses do to get their authors in shape). WHAT DO YOU DO ON DAYS WHEN THE MUSE DOESN’T SIT ON YOUR SHOULDER - or even flit your room for that matter?

1 comment:

Sneed B. Collard III said...

This should be an interesting subject to pursue, Padma. I'm looking forward to hearing more on this. I, too, often switch projects when I need a break or more processing time. I especially try to work on a picture book and a longer project at the same time. Perhaps I disagree that a picture book takes the same intensity as a novel or longer work. I'm not saying its easier to come up with a good one, but I find picture books easier to pick up or set aside. Often, what I need to do for a break is get some exercise. When I'm sitting in front of the keyboard feeling like mush, I know it's time to go for a hike or go to the gym! And, like you mentioned, blogging can be a nice break, too.