This weekend I sent off my a draft of a novel that I’ve been working on to an editor. There’s this great quote by Ray Bradbury (Fahrenheit 451) in which he says, “Write a short story every week. It’s not possible to write 52 bad short stories in a row.”
After hitting this milestone of having refined my first manuscript to the point where I’m willing to pay for editorial services, I have learned two things:
1. Ray Bradbury knows what he’s talking about.
2. Fiction and non-fiction are very different skill sets.
To Ray Bradbury’s point, I admit that making my first long form written project a novel, was a reach. For a novice, there’s a ton I had to actively think about, from the technical skill of writing prose, to global story telling elements, plot and character development, world building, etc. One idea that explains why it was only enjoyable in spurts is Flow State, which I was mostly not in. That’s because a barrier to achieving Flow State is that one must have a good balance between the perceived challenges of the task and one’s own perceived skills. A person must have confidence he or she will complete the task at hand. I suppose I knew I would get to here, but all feels like heading into the unknown.
To play devil’s advocate, the problem with Bradbury’s advice of writing a bunch of short stories, for me anyway, is where to submit them? The New Yorker? Not likely. I guess one could blog them, but that’s not the expectation for this genre. For me, unless I’m journaling, I have a hard time writing things I know no one will ever read.
To my second lesson learned, the two glaring differences I see between fiction and non-fiction is that in fiction writing, the game is being very good at creating worlds in which the literary devices add up to something interesting and novel and true. In non-fiction writing, the game is being creative in taking seemingly disparate data points, identifying those data points, and connecting them in a way that reveal a larger picture or explain a phenomena. All things being equal, the writing is the least of it. The differentiator lies in creative abilities.
For now, I’m waiting for my editor to send me a contract so we can get this show on the road. Some part of me feels like I’m back in high school waiting to get a written assignment back from my teacher. But that’s okay, this will be a good experience. And it’s cheaper than an Master of Fine Arts degree.