« Writing

Fiction vs. non-fiction

February 25, 2023


Recently, one of my Internet follows wrote about how Sylvia Plath really wanted to be a prose writer but kept writing poetry despite herself. I don’t want to see more relevance in this than it actually has (I have a tendency to relate everything I read to what’s happening in my own life), but I can’t stop thinking about it.

I really want to write fiction, but non-fiction keeps coming out of me. A year ago, I decided I was tired of non-fiction. I never wanted to read or write another blog post or essay again, I told myself. I would write stories instead of teaching people things. I would read more fiction instead of non-fiction. I wouldn’t publish anything until I had an actual story to tell.

I’ve sort of kept my promise. I took Joyce Carol Oates’ Masterclass and started writing a short story of my own. I am still writing that story. And I’m not “writing” it in the sense of “wishing I was writing it but actually I’m just angsting over it”. I’m actually working on it in some form nearly every day. I thought the beauty of starting with short stories is that they’re supposed to take less time to write, giving the fledgling novelist an early, confidence-boosting win. It’s been almost a year now. (Fellow writers, is this normal?)

I did publish a few things—they weren’t fiction, but they weren’t non-fiction (I tell myself). I invented and celebrated the first Post Day, which you could say was teaching people about Christopher Alexander’s concept of aliveness. But it was a vague kind of teaching. More of a jaunty homage. I also published some letters to books I’ve loved, which is one step removed from teaching anybody anything, except it seems every novel I’ve ever read is teaching me things, which I then tell people about.

But what bothers me most is not what I have published, but what I haven’t. It seems when I’m not teaching people things, I am teaching myself things. I have amassed reams and reams of words about things I believe, or think I believe, or am experimenting with and might believe one day.

I’m starting to think that by not publishing these things, I could be stopping up the stream that my short story is flowing out of. Because doesn’t it all come from the same place? The fiction, the non-fiction—it’s all part of me. It’s kind of like when Brené Brown talks about numbing—how you can’t numb only the bad feelings without numbing the good feelings as well. Maybe that’s true about writing. Maybe I can’t keep out the teaching part of me and not also keep out the dreaming part.

I’m going to experiment with that. Or at least open up space in my mental map for allowing myself to experiment with that. Maybe it’s true, or maybe it’s a clever delay tactic my brain came up with to make my short story writing even slower. I see you, brain.

In the spirit of POSSE, this was also published at: