Monday, August 14, 2006

Genre Ambivalence

Am I a fiction writer? And I a non-fiction writer? Am I a little bit of both? Am I neither?

Those aren't questions I think about very often. Maybe I should think about them more. I was forced to consider them earlier today. I'd filled out my application for the Great Smokies Writing Program on Friday and was getting ready to mail it today. I looked over it one last time and paused when I read the name of the class I'd signed up for.

It was a creative-nonfiction workshop. When I told some family members and friends that I would be taking a creative-nonfiction workshop, their general response was, "You? Why do you need to take a writing class?"

"It's not really a writing class," I explained. "It's a workshop for beginning and advanced writers. We work on creative nonfiction and give and receive feedback. I think it'll be good to meet other writers, to get some response to my work, and ... oh, I don't know. I think it will be a good motivator, too."

My loved ones sniffed. "Well, I don't think you need to spend money (which, of course, you don't have) on a writing class. They should be paying you to teach it."

Yeah, whatever. My loved ones didn't understand. They don't understand the need for word-people to seek out other word-people and discuss ... well, words. Sure, I probably could run a creative-nonfiction workshop, but that wasn't the point. The point was, I wanted to be in an environment that combined writing and school--and I wanted to be the student this time.

Fast-forward to this morning. I had already filled out the application and written the check. I sealed and stamped the envelope, put it in the mailbox, and flipped the little red flag up. But when I came back inside, I looked over the course listings and thought ... hmm ... maybe I should have signed up for the novel-writing workshop instead.

I started to e-mail the director and ask if I had to have a novel-in-progress in order to sign up for that workshop. Then I deleted the e-mail. I'd already signed up for creative nonfiction. It was offered at the same time as the novel workshop, so I couldn't sign up for both. Creative nonfiction was my choice.

But ...

I started to e-mail the director again with my question, then thought, "Wait a minute. I do have a novel-in-progress. And I've been making notes for two weeks on another idea for a novel." So there you go. Not one but two novels in progress. And if I really wanted to be optimistic, I could add a third one that I wrote in college. The draft was 600 handwritten pages, but I never went back to write the second draft.

Then I thought about how I've written a lot of creative nonfiction, how I've been paid to write creative nonfiction, how I'm editing a creative nonfiction book right now and feel very confident that I know what I'm doing, thankyouverymuch. And how I've taken workshops in creative nonfiction. And how I just got off the phone with a company an hour before, setting up a meeting for a possible freelance writing (nonfiction) job.

I've written a lot of creative nonfiction, but fiction is what I've always wanted to write. I've written plenty of attempts at fiction; I've just never written anything that's seen the light of day. And I've certainly never sent anything off, except for a novel I wrote in eighth grade, which I entered into a novel contest for teenagers. (The winning manuscript got published. I'm honestly glad my silly melodrama didn't win.)

I've written plenty of attempts at fiction, but I've never once taken a fiction-writing workshop. I've never taken a fiction-writing class of any kind. I've never had the nerve to do such a thing.

Until now.

I went to the mailbox, opened the envelope (the glue hadn't dried yet), rewrote the application to sign up for the novel workshop, stuffed it back into the envelope, taped the envelope shut, and put it back into the mailbox.

I've written plenty of creative nonfiction, but at heart I'm a fiction writer. And I'm going to take my first-ever fiction-writing workshop, starting in about two weeks.

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