I’ve always considered myself to be a fiction writer.
I lived in my imagination as a kid (and yet, I was pragmatic to a fault at times; just ask my dad). Long before I’d experienced any real pain or suffering in life, I wrote “chapter books” about The Underground Railroad or young girls forced into foster care after their dad killed their mother. I made up worlds and situations and people and put myself in the minds of my narrators.
When I decided to pursue a second major in creative writing in college, I refused to take any nonfiction or poetry classes—because I was a fiction writer, and that was all I wanted to be. Though we were required to take two courses outside of our genre, I found a loophole by taking a class on screenwriting through the film department and a class that focused solely on writing single scenes of stories.
I never planned on writing about true events or real people, so I didn’t think it was worth developing that skillset. The truth—though I don’t think I realized it at the time—was that I didn’t want to have to write about my feelings.
You can tell a story as it happened and call it nonfiction, but no one wants to read a straight retelling of events (unless they’re reading the news or a history book or an article on WebMD).
No, readers want to feel the emotions you felt while that event was happening. To hear your thoughts and try to understand the motives behind your actions. And to do all of this effectively, you have to be willing to be vulnerable.
In college, I wasn’t willing to be vulnerable. I wasn’t willing to have my feelings dissected in front of a class of people who were way more confident in who they were than I was.
Now, this is a realization I’m having four years after graduating, so I can’t kick myself for taking the easy way out and passing up a chance to work on a valuable skillset. What I can do is be vulnerable in my writing moving forward.
In the past couple of weeks, I read two essay collections by female authors close in age to me: One Day We’ll All Be Dead and None of This Will Matter by Scaachi Koul and I’ll Tell You in Person by Chloe Caldwell. Today, I ordered four new books on Amazon—all of which are nonfiction (memoirs and personal essay collections, to be exact). I’m currently staring at a soon-to-be-read nonfiction book on my nightstand: On Edge: A Journey Through Anxiety by Andrea Petersen.
These are certainly not the first nonfiction books I’ve read/plan to read. But this burning desire to read about real struggles, real feelings, real wins, and real lives is somewhat new. I’m inspired by writers who unabashedly tell their stories, and I’m hoping that by continuing to read their stories, I’ll be able to follow in their footsteps.
I promise you: I’m still a fiction writer. I’ll still continue to write stories of made-up trauma and drama. However, I won’t put myself in a box anymore. As I’ve said in previous posts, I’m working on a short story collection (among a couple other projects). And what started off as a mostly fictional compilation is slowly turning into something more real, more vulnerable, more uncensored. Interpret that however you want. Just stay tuned for for what’s to come.