You can juggle fiction and nonfiction writing in your career, but you’ll need organization, diligence, and the ingenuity to recognize how to give each skill set its proper time, place, and respect in your writing life.
When it comes to earning a living, many writers find that nonfiction writing is their bread and butter. While fiction is often more fun to write and is a format many writers feel better displays their prowess, fiction writing might not draw in much of an income for years – if ever. So how much time do you spend writing what you love versus the writing that pays the bills? How is a writer to remain sane and satisfied? How does one juggle fiction and nonfiction writing?
Develop a writing regimen
Whatever writing you do, you need to have a regimen. What time of day and how long a period can you devote to your profession? It’s only when you identify the time you have at hand, and instill it as a hard and fast habit, that you can decide how to divide it up.
Identify your priorities
If you need the income from writing to pay your bills, then nonfiction writing may need to take priority. Frankly, you may need to focus all of your official writing time on nonfiction to establish your career before you can afford to steal time away to write fiction. Once you are solid in your writing income, you can judge how much time you can apply to fiction.
Take note of your most creative times
Fiction, as a general rule, is more imaginative a craft than writing commercial nonfiction. You might find evenings more conducive to your storytelling, once the world has slowed down. Or you love mornings, while your mind is fresh. When you assign time to your fiction writing, give it the plum piece of day that makes it sing. You’ll be more inclined to stick to a schedule if your spirit is fed well. Chances are your nonfiction, business side works best at other times anyway.
Set writing goals and deadlines
Your commercial career has deadlines and administrative duties. You need time to write, research, manage queries, promote, and collect payments. You’ll be surprised how that knack carries into your fiction writing. Everything you write needs goals such as hours per week, word count per day, or chapters each month. Without direction, you go nowhere.
I began my career writing mysteries only to learn after two and a half years that nobody wanted to buy my stories. Looking back, I recognize my writing wasn’t ready for publication, but at the time I was on fire to remain a writer. I researched grants and had made contacts with publishers, agents, and contests, so it only made sense to bank off my skills and knowledge. I dove into commercial nonfiction writing, then went on to start a weekly newsletter called FundsforWriters.com to spread my name and use my research abilities to help others.
I adhered to the advice listed above and established myself on this nonfiction career path. The primary objective was to make people see me as a writer. Pursuing nonfiction was the most logical approach to reaching that goal. Once I knew how many hours per week I needed to work, once I had a collection of published clips, once I knew what time of day suited me best for my nonfiction writing, I reopened the door to my pursuits in fiction.
Every night, once I’d completed my nonfiction requirements, I wrote my mysteries. Nights let me escape. I knew my biological clock and its preferences. I gave myself a window of time to write creatively.
That was a decade ago. Today, FundsforWriters.com is nearly seventeen years old with 32,000 subscribers. I’m also a mystery author of two series of novels published via Bell Bridge Books. Murder on Edisto is the latest. I’m pleased as punch, but admittedly, I wouldn’t have published my fiction if not for the discipline developed in my nonfiction career.
Writing nonfiction helped my writing in many ways
- My writing matured. Writing articles, keeping deadlines, and tightening pieces to specific word counts gave me a more skilled, agile, practical knowledge of words. Whatever you write, you improve your writing abilities the more you do it. Each word on paper is one step closer to marketable talent.
- My editing matured. Under deadline, I developed an eye for effective turns of phrase. I quickly grasped passive voice, hooks, metaphors, and how to efficiently complete a thought. Punctuation, verb choice, and minimal use of adverbs became more natural.
- My voice took root. Just like authors of fiction, nonfiction writers twist sentences to be slick and wise. We work to make a point more succinctly, more cleverly than the next guy. After penning so many magazine features and essays for FundsforWriters (two to four per week), I awoke one night with the realization my novel needed to be in first person, like the hundreds of essays I’d written. That sarcasm, pithy phrasing, and pointed messaging from my essays was my voice, and soon my protagonist spoke with a power to be reckoned with.
You can juggle fiction and nonfiction writing in your career. However, you need more than a storytelling aptitude. You need organization, diligence, and the ingenuity to recognize how to give each skill set its proper time, place, and respect in your writing life.
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